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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Facing A Must-Win vs. Buffalo, Boston Comes Through (Barely) 4-3 in OT Thanks to Eriksson

While I will admit that the Sabres have been playing better lately, a loss against them at anytime is still unacceptable, especially when the Bruins are so desperate for points. That's what made Boston's (17-14-3) 4-3 overtime win against Buffalo (13-18-3) this evening at TD Garden so vital to the B's. I know I said it last week when they won at Minnesota but once again, this might have saved Boston's turbulent season.

Boston actually trailed 3-2 with under two minutes left in regulation before Dougie Hamilton (1st career 2-goal game; tied career-high with 3 points) tied it at 18:29 with a top shelf wrister. That set the stage for Loui Eriksson's second straight overtime game-winner (he also did that vs. Wild on Wednesday) at 2:14 of the extra session. Milan Lucic sprung him by chipping the puck ahead and Zdeno Chara started the play from Boston's end so he got the second assist.

There were two games left before Christmas break and both were at the Garden so the B's couldn't afford to drop another game. They improved to 3-0 vs. the Sabres this season (2-0 in OT) with the much-anticipated finale coming on St. Patrick's Day here in Boston, I'll bring the green beer.

The Bruins actually had a power play goal by Reilly Smith called off for the softest goaltender interference that you've ever seen on Eriksson. He barely touched Jhonas Enroth (33 saves) who still had time to recover anyway yet that's not how the refs saw it. No worries though as Hamilton beat Enroth on that same man-advantage. His sixth goal of the season came at 5:52 and it was assisted by Carl Soderberg and Eriksson.

All hell broke loose later in the first period when Matt Bartkowski absolutely annihilated BC's Brian Gionta with a shoulder right to his head. Gionta got knocked out (and left the game) and Bartkowski (playing in his 100th NHL game) ended up in his first NHL fight vs. Marcus Foligno (who ended up leaving with an injury as well). Bartkowski got a game-misconduct and he could be hearing from the league although who knows since he's never been fined or suspended and he's not a dirty player at all.

Former Bruins great Andrej Meszaros tied it at 6:06 of the second period, tapping in a pass from Chris Stewart (reportedly scouted by Boston for a possible trade) and Johan Larsson. It was his first goal as a Sabre and first since last March 30 with Boston vs. another former team (Philadelphia).

It felt like it wasn't the Bruins' night when Buffalo netted only their ninth power play goal of the season (!). Good old Rasmus Ristolainen's shot deflected off Torey Krug's skate past Tuukka Rask (25 saves). Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons (another fantastic name) were credit with the gift assists as Buffalo took the 2-1 lead.

Luckily Boston's fans only had a minute to stew (literally) as Chris Kelly tied it with an old school tip in that bounced off the ice and into the net. Chara and Hamilton assisted on Kelly's third goal of the season which also gave him a four-game point streak (1 goal, 3 assists).

To say I was conflicted by Buffalo's next goal doesn't even begin to explain it. Providence College graduate and Merrimack, NH native Tim Schaller scored his first career NHL goal and point on a wraparound at 1:27 of the third period. It was a beautiful moment with his parents in the stands and for a while, I thought it would stand up as the game-winner. Against any other team, I'd be going nuts for him.

Boston had some crazy zone time in the third period and outshot Buffalo 13-6 but it looked like a useless stat until Hamilton finally tied it up. Patrice Bergeron and Reilly Smith both had helpers on Hamilton's huge tally. For a team that struggles so much to score, it is bizarre how well that Boston has done in OT this season (5-1 in OT and 2-2 in shootouts). Likewise, the irony that Eriksson has won them two games in the past five days is hilarious since he's one of the easy targets for most people.

The Predators (21-8-2) are in Columbus tomorrow night before visiting Boston on Tuesday (7, NESN), the Sabres also came in on the second night of a back-to-back. Nashville won 3-2 in a shootout last Tuesday at home, the start of Boston's three-game road trip. They are one of the best teams in the NHL and Pekka Rinne is currently the top goaltender so needless to say the B's will have their hands full before they can enjoy a few much-needed days off.

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