After overcoming a two-goal deficit in Buffalo Thursday to emerge with a 4-2 win, the Bruins returned home to TD Garden for a New Year’s Eve matinee in the home half of the week’s home-and-home series with the Sabres. The sellout crowd of 17,565 who arrived in a festive mood, left ready to usher in the new year in high spirits after seeing Boston defeat Buffalo 3-1.
The Bruins received goals from Frank Vatrano, Patrice Bergeron, and Tim Schaller while receiving another stellar goaltending performance from Tuukka Rask, who stopped 27 of Buffalo’s 28 shots.
Buffalo’s lone goal came off the stick of Jack Eichel.
“We had a better start, and playing with the lead makes a big difference, and the third period, we played smart,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “We could’ve used a few more goals if we could have mustered those, but at the end of the day, I think it was about making sure we played smart, and didn’t play on our heels, and we kept pucks moving forward. So, that was an important third period for us as well.”
Vatrano struck for his second goal of the season only 1:28 into the game from the top of the right faceoff circle after receiving a cross-ice pass from Zdeno Chara giving Boston a 1-0 lead.
Boston carried the play throughout the period and had more than a few good scoring chances negated by Buffalo goaltender Robin Lehner.
Lehner stopped nine Bruins shots while Rask turned aside all five Sabres shots in the opening period.
Patrice Bergeron increased Boston’s lead to 2-0 at the 7:04 mark of the second period with his seventh of the season while on the power play. After some tic-tac-toe passing from Brad Marchand and Ryan Spooner, Spooner found Bergeron in the high slot and the Bruins alternate captain one-timed Spooner’s pass into the in the back of the Lehner’s net.
Boston would take a 3-0 lead 2:25 seconds later on Tim Schaller’s fifth goal of the year. He beat Sabres defenseman Risto Ristolainen to the outside along the boards and sent a backhand shot past Lehner. Torey Krug and Austin Czarnik garnered the assists.
Eichel, a native of North Chelmsford, MA beat Rask for his seventh goal of the season with 22 seconds remaining in the period but that would be the only puck to elude Rask.
After 40 minutes, Boston held a 3-1 advantage on the scoreboard despite Buffalo outshooting Boston 13-9 during the second period.
The third period saw the Bruins instill their stifling defensive game and Rask stopped all nine Sabres shots to emerge with the 3-1 victory.
Lehner finished the contest with 25 saves on 28 shots.
“We talked about having a better start, obviously,” Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid said in an upbeat Bruins dressing room after the game. “That was pretty much the focus, trying to have a better start and trying to sustain that, which I don’t know if we fully did. But, we did have a good start. So, it’s a positive. We knew, again, it was an important two points and they have a team that competes and plays physical and we knew they would be ready as well, and they were.”
With the win, Boston improved to 20-15-4 which gives them 44 points and pulls them into a tie for second-place in the Atlantic Division with the Ottawa Senators.
The Bruins return to action Monday, January 3rd against the Devils in New Jersey.
Denna Laing, who suffered a paralyzing injury at the Women’s Winter Classic last December 31st, dropped the ceremonial faceoff before the game and visited the Bruins in their room after the game.
Boston finished the calendar year 2016 with a 41-35-9 record.
With the win, the Bruins have swept the Sabres in this season’s series for the first time in their lifetime histories. Buffalo had been the only NHL team that the Bruins had not yet swept in a season series.
The Bruins are 7-0-0 against the Sabres in their last seven games dating back to January 15, 2016.
Boston has scored a power play goal in four of their last five games, going 4 for 17 (23.5%) over that span.
The Bruins opened a three-goal lead in the game. It is the 17th time this season they have held a two-or-more goal lead in a game. They have a 14-2-1 record in those games.
Boston played their fourth of 13-afternoon games on this season’s schedule. They are 4-0-0 in matinees this season.
Ryan Spooner has 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points in his last 5 games.
Torey Krug extended his point streak to 5 games with 7 assists in that stretch.
Patrice Bergeron has single goals each in 3 of his last 5 games.
Frank Vatrano has 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) in 3 of his last 5 games.
Happy New Year and thank you for being loyal readers!
Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.