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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Shootout Loss Spoiled An Otherwise Unforgettable Night At TD Garden

There are very few things in professional sports during the regular season that give me goosebumps but tonight was one of the those rare occasions. The Bruins returned to the TD Garden ice for the first time since the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday and even though they lost 3-2 to the Sabres in a shootout, the pregame ceremonies, national anthem and chants during the game were things I'll never forget.

It wasn't all bad for Boston (26-11-5) who are winless (0-2-1) in their last three games but still clinched a playoff spot for the sixth straight season with the point. They are also tied with Montreal for first place in the Northeast Division although the B's have one game in hand. Ryan Miller (41 saves) stole the show with Cody Hodgson tying it with 27 seconds left in regulation and Drew Stafford scoring the lone shootout goal for Buffalo (19-19-6).

Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron were back in the lineup and each looked like they hadn't missed any time. Wade Redden made a predictably anonymous debut but Chris Kelly (1 goal, 1 assist) and Daniel Paille (1 goal, 1 assist) surprisingly carried the offensive load for Boston. Paille scored his ninth goal of the season at 5:45 of the first period after a feed from Kelly behind the net. Miller got a piece of the shot but it went over the line.

Thomas Vanek scored the first of two power play goals for Buffalo at 18:20. He tipped Christian Ehrhoff's wrist shot from the point past Anton Khudobin (30 saves; 9-3-1). Kelly helped Boston regain the lead at 14:48 of the second period with his third goal of the season. Paille and Andrew Ference assisted on Kelly's dogged effort to follow his own rebounds, the only real way to beat Miller.

With 48 seconds left, Ference was called for delay of game (putting the puck over the glass) and the Sabres made it count when Hodgson tipped in Vanek's pass. After a scoreless overtime, Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were all stopped by Miller in the shootout. Khudobin stoned Vanek and Nathan Gerbe but Stafford got the job done.

It was a rough end to a long and very emotional night but with this type of effort (and better finishing), the Bruins will be fine. The Pittsburgh Steamrollers, I mean Penguins (33-10-0) come to the Garden on Friday (7 p.m., NESN) for their only regular season meeting in the Hub. Pittsburgh beat Boston twice in March at CONSOL Energy Center in the same weird week. Two points against the Pens, who have won five straight to run away with the Eastern Conference, would go a long way for Boston's shaky confidence.

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