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Take Five: Vanek, Sabres embarrass defenseless Bruins

January 31, 2013, 11:43 PM ET [179 Comments]
Ty Anderson
Boston Bruins Blogger •Bruins Feature Columnist • RSSArchiveCONTACT
It was supposed to be a ‘fight night’ at the TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres, embarrassed by the Boston Bruins in front of the world last year when Milan Lucic’s trucking of Ryan Miller went unanswered, beefed up their roster with offseason acquisitions of both Steve Ott and the 6-foot-8 John Scott, and did so with the primary idea of putting an end to the Bruins’ bullying ways.

But riding into Boston with a four-game losing streak, the fisticuffs were put to an end a mere two minutes and change into the opening faceoff. With Scott and the Black-and-Gold’s Shawn Thornton lined up at the faceoff, the punishing duo dropped the mitts practically before the puck hit the ice, and in a lopsided fight if there ever was one, the towering Scott hammered Thornton with fist after fist. Ultimately dropping the Boston enforcer, and putting an end to his night just 16 seconds in (Thornton, who would return to the Boston bench for the third period, left due to reported dizziness following the fight), the tone was set for what was a simply classic Adams Division-like battle at the Garden.

As Buffalo weathered a first period B’s attack that included 14 shots on Miller, the Sabres opened the second up with some scoring from noted Boston killer, Thomas Vanek.

This, in his 46th career game against the Black-and-Gold, would be a recurring theme.

While the Bruins would answer back with three straight goals -- coming off the stick of Rich Peverley and then two off the stick of Brad Marchand, good for his fourth and fifth of the season -- the Sabres got their revenge when the Bruins took an uncharacteristic two penalties on one play.

As Milan Lucic was called for a boarding in the Buffalo zone, the march up ice eventually led to a holding call on Boston captain and anchor of the penalty-kill, Zdeno Chara, the Sabres’ full two-minute 5-on-3 attack didn’t come without the results they were looking for.

Cutting the Boston lead in half, Buffalo found the equalizer when Tyler Ennis, all alone, had more than enough time to simply beat a down-and-out Tuukka Rask for his second goal of the season.

The tie, as we’d learn, wouldn’t last long when the third opened up with David Krejci’s second goal of the season, a simply beautiful work that fooled Miller, surrendering his fourth goal of the night.

But as third carried on with Alexander Sulzer tying things up a mere 43 seconds later, the 32-year-old Miller was simply locked into a zone.

Jumping out to a 5-4 lead when Cody Hodgson made a falling Chara look silly and capitalized for his fourth of the season, the Bruins’ rush and onslaught of a backpeddling Sabres defense couldn’t yield anything but Miller saves. Denying Chara, alone in the slot with a blast, and stopping Patrice Bergeron with a glove-save from the deepest of butterfly positions possible, this was Miller’s time to shine.

Quieting the once deafening “Miller” chants from the 17,565 in Black-and-Gold, the Sabres’ insurance came first with Vanek’s third of the night, beating a hung-out-to-dry Rask, and came once more with an empty-net goal from the captain, Jason Pominville.

Defense at an all-time low in loss

Tonight, the Boston Bruins gave the puck away 13 times.

That’s not a typo; It’s just an embarrassment.

It’s hard to remember the last time that the Bruins, a team based on a tight defensive system, were this bad in their own end, and it showed when they hung Tuukka Rask out to dry -- for about 60 damn minutes. Allowing a career-high six goals on 32 shots in the loss, you couldn’t really find to any goal that made you go, “Wow, Rask definitely should’ve had that one.”

The defense, in essence, stunk. It was nonexistent, in fact.

“Sometimes you’re going to have nights like that,” B’s captain Zdeno Chara, who finished the game with a minus-3 plus/minus, said of the loss. “I didn’t play my best game, that’s for sure. I made some mistakes that cost us.”

With the exception of bottom-pairing defensemen Adam McQuaid, it’s safe to say that this night was a pure nightmare for every Boston blue-liner, and it showed with about a thousand odd-man rushes and successful breakouts into the Boston zone by Buffalo skaters.

“Braindead,” said Claude Julien of the team’s defense. Yeah, that says it.

Vanek continues to absolutely dominate Bruins goaltending

Tuukka Rask, Tim Thomas, Manny Fernandez, hell, throw Andrew Raycroft in there and it honestly wouldn’t matter ‘cause Thomas Vanek is and has been the biggest Boston killer in the entire National Hockey League since breaking into the league.

Entering tonight with 25 goals and 49 points in just 45 games against the Bruins, Vanek decided that tonight was yet another fine night to simply explode on Boston ice, recording his second five-point game of the season. Bumping his totals against the Black-and-Gold up to a superhuman 28 goals and 26 assists in 46 contests, Vanek’s not focusing on the statistics that have put him in an elite grouping, but rather the effort put forth by his squad.

“On the bench we kept telling ourselves, ‘let’s go get the next one.’ We did, and that was big,” the 29-year-old winger said of his team’s ability to battle back. “Obviously if they would have scored that fourth one, I don’t think we’d be here right now. But we didn’t let that happen, and at the end it was a good win for us.”

But in 2013, it’s not just Boston that the Austrian-born Vanek’s killing. It’s the entire league.

“I can’t deny that,” Vanek quipped when asked if this has been the best stretch of his career. “Pucks are going in right now for me, and with [Pominville], I’ve always had good chemistry, and Cody [Hodgson] fits right in. Again, there’s going to be stretches where nothing goes, so you like it right now, but eventually it’s going to hit the other way, so you just leave the game here today, and it’s a new day tomorrow.”

Regardless of the new day Vanek anticipates, in just six games this season, he has recorded six goals and added nine assists. Insanity, absolute insanity.

Bruins lost the third, lost the game

What’s made the Bruins such a complete team for the past two years has been their ability to hang on to leads and really outwork the opposition in the final twenty minutes of play. Tonight, despite a 16-shot third period, the Bruins lost the third period, and in turn, lost the game. Coincidence? Not a chance.

Entering play outscoring opponents 7-0 in the third period this year, and on the heels of a comeback win against New Jersey on Tuesday night, the Bruins were outbanged by the Sabres in the final frame, and ultimately showed it on the scoreboard as Buffalo put four third-period markers on the board compared to Boston’s one.

“I thought offensively we did a good job, we had a lot of chances, we scored four goals,” Julien said, downplaying the third period letdown. “Defensively, I don’t think I remember the last time we were this bad. The breakdowns and mistakes we made and the opportunities – when you give Vanek those kind of opportunities, he’s going to make the most of it. So, I don’t think we were extremely good on defense and that’s what cost us the game tonight.”

Ruff’s timeout a punk move that he’d surely cry about

For years now, we’ve seen Lindy Ruff cry about every injustice that’s ever happened to the Buffalo Sabres. To Ruff, everything’s a “joke,” and “disgraceful.”

The Sabres are the victims of multiple conspiracies, all aimed at crumbling the infrastructure of the Sabres’ organization. It’s all one big scam, everyone!

But can you imagine the outcry you’d hear from Ruff and company if the Bruins pulled what he did with 13.6 seconds left in a three-goal game?

With the B’s throwing Lane MacDermid out there to round out the disappointing loss, Ruff saw an apparent mismatch given the fact that he threw one of his ‘skill guys’ out there for the next faceoff, and decided to call a timeout to get John Scott out there.

There were less than 15 seconds to go. In a three-goal game.

“I don’t know why he took it, there was no – I really don’t know. But, he’s entitled to it, so I just played along with it,” Bruins bench boss Claude Julien said when pressed about the timeout. “He might’ve thought that something was going to happen, which wasn’t, but that’s probably for him to answer. I don’t know.”

The Bruins, believe it or not, weren’t going to have MacDermid, a player suiting up for his sixth NHL game, commit to an assault on an unsuspecting Sabre given the unknown health status of bottom-sixer Shawn Thornton. Of this I can assure you.

“He wants to be a big shot, and it was not the best play to do, but pretty disrespectful,” B’s forward Brad Marchand said of Ruff’s timeout. “So if he wants to be like that, that’s fine and we just have to move on.”

Again, this is all just funny to me considering the fact that Ruff would surely piss and moan about what a ‘classless’ move the B’s coaching staff pulled on him in a decided contest. You know, just consider it the status-quo from a guy that whined about Jordin Tootoo’s role in the National Hockey League last year while allowing Patrick Kaleta to commit to his perennially embarrassing tactics that vary from flopping to headbutting.

Nothin’ to see here. Nope, nothing at all.

Long-term Shawn Thornton injury would hit B’s pretty hard

Boston’s Shawn Thornton knew that he had a hellish matchup going head-to-head with the Sabres’ John Scott. Despite giving up six inches and almost 60 pounds, the 35-year-old Thornton knew that ‘Big John’ would be calling his name, and he answered.

Taking the loss, it’d be the only action the Boston fourth-liner would see on the night, finishing the game with 16 seconds of ice-time in two shifts. Suffering from reported dizziness, the B’s were mum when it came to providing an update on his condition.

“We’ll know more tomorrow,” Julien said of Thornton’s injury. “He’s being evaluated, until we get a definite answer, nothing more.”

Despite being rivals and even with some pre-game chatter between the two during warmups, the 30-year-old Scott showed concern for Thornton when talking to the media after the win.

“I was asking our trainers how he’s doing. You never want to hurt somebody, I was kind of concerned after the first period we never saw him again,” Scott, who dropped the gloves for the second time in seven games, said regarding Thornton’s departure. “I still don’t know how he’s doing, hopefully he’s doing well. You hate to see someone leave the game like that.”

But where this injury will hurt the most comes with its blow to the depth of the club.

Given the scratching of Chris Bourque, any extended Thornton absence would essentially require the Bruins to plug Bourque back into his role on the club’s third line and move Danny Paille back to the fourth line, given Bourque’s skill-set and its unfamiliarity with the role of the Bruins’ fourth line.

Why’s that a no-win situation for Boston? Well, ‘cause the third line looked better than it has all season tonight. Finishing the game with a goal, two assists, and a combined eight shots on net, the third line was buzzing and showed some chemistry in only their first game together.

“There was a matter of time, they were getting some chances and it’s nice to see Rich [Peverley] score and I think he had a great opportunity shortly after he could have had two quick goals there,” Julien said of the Peverley-Kelly-Paille line. “But those are encouraging signs and if we can rectify the part that cost us tonight and keep working on the offensive game that our guys are producing we’ll be okay.”

If Thornton’s unavailable, and Julien decides not to turn to Bourque, expect a third-line tryout for Providence forward Jamie Tardif.

Up next...

The Bruins will head to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs. Certainly frustrated by tonight’s loss, my thoughts and prayers will be with a Maple Leafs goaltending core that’s simply been picked apart by the Bruins for almost five years in a row now. It will also be the first game in Toronto for local boy and would’ve-been-Leafs-talent, Dougie Hamilton.

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