Haggerty: Bruins forwards make strides in Buffalo

Haggerty: Bruins forwards make strides in Buffalo
April 1, 2013, 11:45 am
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BUFFALO -- The Bruins really only showed up for the final 13 minutes of the third period on Sunday night, but even that is a sign of progress for a Black and Gold hockey club in need of some encouragement.

The David Krejci line produced both goals in the final seven minutes of the game, a 2-0 victory over the Sabres at the First Niagara Center, and that allowed Boston to salvage two points from a weekend that could have been so much more against the Flyers and Sabres.

But it was each of the top two lines that got the ball rolling for the Bruins: Krejci and Nathan Horton powered the goals and it was an energetic Brad Marchand/Patrice Bergeron/Tyler Seguin shift that finally snapped things into place seven minutes into the third period.

“We had to stay focused because even after two periods it was 0-0,” said B's coach Claude Julien. “It was about staying positive and sticking with the game plan while doing the right things. But each period we talked about doing things a little bit better in certain areas and the guys answered [that call] well.”

Up until the third period Lucic, Krejci, Marchand, Bergeron, Seguin and Rich Peverley had combined for only two shots on net, and it looked like another sleep-inducing brand of Bruins hockey. But instead it was the familiar sight of the Bruins pulling away from an opponent in the final 20 minutes of action.

“I think we stuck with it. We knew it had to be a pretty solid first two periods, but obviously it’s not going to go in very easily to us,” Krejci said. “We just need to stick with it and I think that’s what we did in the third. It was a good start tonight. We hope it was the start of something good.”

The key for Boston’s forwards finally breaking through was getting traffic and bodies in front of the net in the third period. Once they began winning one-on-one battles and putting themselves in harm’s way, things started happening for them.

The first goal started with Lucic holding the puck in the offensive end before giving it up to rookie Matt Bartkowski at the point. The rookie defenseman shot the puck down low to Horton, who winged a backhander at the Buffalo net that Ryan Miller stopped. Horton chopped at the rebound but again Miller made the initial stop, but he couldn’t hold back the third effort rebound chance from Krejci tucked around the goalie’s pads.

Three minutes later, the Bruins showed off a little more offense that combined skill with hard work in front, and maybe even a little dose of confidence that’s sorely needed at this point. Krejci winged a saucer pass from the outside of the left face-off circle to Horton camped in front of the net, and the right winger redirected a shot past Miller to give Boston a late insurance goal.

Credit the Krejci/Horton/Lucic combo for carrying the offense point-wise and paying the price against Buffalo to snap Boston’s two-game losing stretch. The Bruins improved their game as Sunday night unfolded and that was just as encouraging as the resulting two points for a hockey club looking for their own Silver Linings Playbook.

“We talked about it in the first intermission. We felt like we had something to build off at the end of the first period, and we felt like it was going to come as the game went along,” Lucic said. “I said it this morning. The one goal that we scored [Saturday against the Flyers] was right in front of the net and the two goals we scored tonight were right in front of the net.

“It was good to get the win here and end this mini-road trip with a .500 record. The way we were playing defensively eventually allowed us to establish things offensively and start winning some battles in the offensive zone to control the puck. That first goal we were able to work it up top with two guys at the net and then shoot it at the net.”

When things had finally settled down in the third period, Horton had six shots on net, Lucic was back carrying the puck in the offensive zone with steely determination that nobody was going to take it off his stick, and Krejci was ripping off pinpoint saucer passes that require an elite level of skill.

It sure looked like a hint of the Bruins team that dominated in the first half of the season, and it should be something to build on if the Bruins are headed in a better direction.

“It was better. If we’re going to call it a step forward then we’ll see more of that in the next game,” said Julien. “But the effort was much better and the skating was better. You could see the speed in our game was better than it’s been in a long time. There was still some over-passing in areas, but we got better as the game was going along. That was the goal tonight.”

Now the fun begins. The Bruins are one point behind the Montreal Canadiens in the Northeast Division with no games in hand and exactly 14 games to go in the final month of the regular season. If the season ended today the Bruins would host the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs, and they’ll host the pesky Sens on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

The Bruins need to quickly build up to their best stretch of the year with the playoffs less than a month away, and the first small step may have been taken Sunday night in Buffalo.