The Bruins beat the Sabres, 1-0, but lost forward Matt Beleskey to injury in the process. (Kevin Hoffman/USA Today Sports)
Days like Saturday in Buffalo are the perfect reminder as to just how lost the Bruins would be without goaltender Tuukka Rask.
Under siege after a mild first period, the 29-year-old Rask came up with 32 stops in the final 40 minutes of the game, including 16 in the third and final frame, in a 2-1 final for the Bruins over the Sabres.
On the board against Sabres netminder Robin Lehner 14:10 into the first period behind a David Krejci tip-in off a Brandon Carlo bomb from the point, the Bruins carried that 1-0 edge into the first intermission while holding the Sabres to just three shots.
In a whiteknuckle start to the third period, the Bruins finally extended their lead out to two when Patrice Bergeron corralled a bouncing puck from one side of the slot all the around other to the other side behind the net, and successfully batted the puck home for his fourth goal of the season, scored at the 7:44 mark of the third.
The goal, with assists to David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, was Bergeron’s first goal in seven games, while the assist gave Pastrnak his 12th point in his last 14 games played, and fifth in six games since returning from his upper-body injury on Nov. 24.
The Sabres finally countered the B’s strikes with Evander Kane’s first goal of the season, however, scored off an Adam McQuaid turnover. With a backwards dump that put the puck on Sam Reinhart’s stick and then thrown back out to Kane, the struggling Kane popped the puck up and over Rask 9:12 into the third period to bring the Blades back within one.
But the Bruins survived, and came up with a big kill with Austin Czarnik in the box with under seven minutes to go in the third.
It helped pace the B’s and put an end to a Sabres comeback shot behind a Marchand-heavy assault on Buffalo skaters.
Behind a season-high 35 stops, Rask improved to 13-4-1 on the year, and his save percentage jumped from .939 to .941.
Just another day at the office.
Here are four other things we learned in a matinee victory
Matt Beleskey exits with undisclosed injury
The Bruins did take a loss in this game with an injury to Matt Beleskey.
Rocked on a collision with the Sabres’ Taylor Fedun at the Buffalo blue line, Beleskey appeared to have a tough time putting much of any weight on his knee area as he made his way down the tunnel. Done after just 5:27 of time on ice, Beleskey was replaced on the B’s third line by Anton Blidh, while the fourth line shuffled around with Tim Schaller taking shifts with Ryan Spooner and Dom Moore.
Beleskey has two goals and five points, along with 62 hits, in 24 games this season. And if Beleskey is out for any extended stretch, Jimmy Hayes, a healthy scratch today, should draw back into action.
Anton Blidh makes NHL debut
As mentioned above, one of the lone gains from Beleskey’s departure? An uptick in ice time and NHL experience for Anton Blidh. Making his NHL debut after just 84 games in the American Hockey League since the start of last year — and called up with five goals and nine points in 19 games for the P-Bruins this year — Blidh began his night with Moore and Spooner but was quickly shifted up to the third line combo with Austin Czarnik and Riley Nash, where his fit was noticeable.
Blidh actually led the B’s in shots on goal through two periods of play, too, with three.
What you like about Blidh is that there’s an attitude to his game. He’s a little bit of an agitator — teammates and coaches alike have noted how Blidh does like to talk a lot out there — and plays a straight ahead game that creates space and opportunities for his linemates. And maybe the full package was not on display with today’s effort (you almost never see that in a player’s NHL debut, just ask Brad Marchand in 2009-10), but you saw a little bit of what can make Blidh an interesting bottom-six option.
Dominant first period a key for B’s in victory
Given how the Sabres turned it on against the Black and Gold in both the second and third period, the B’s should be thanking their lucky stars for their strong start of an opening 20. In a first period in which the Bruins attempted 25 shots on Robin Lehner, and scored the game’s first goal, the Bruins allowed just 13 attempts the other way, and just three of those shots landed on net.
And considering how the Bruins have fared in the first periods of their games this season — the B’s entered play with scoreless first periods in 11 contests on the year and having scored just 15 first period goals through the first 24 games of the season — to find a way to strike first was a big deal for the club in this win. It just absolutely helps take some pressure off your goalie.
Patrice Bergeron plays through apparent illness, still scores
Absent from Friday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena but a go for today’s game, it would seem likely that Patrice Bergeron is currently battling through something. It’s also been alluded to (by the broadcast team and the team) that that something is a sickness of sorts, as Bergeron did play today, but didn’t necessarily look like Bergeron. (We’ve said that quite a bit this season.)
But Bergeron did come through with a goal at less than 100 percent, credited as the game-winner, and his fourth of the year.
Sick or not, that’s a monkey and a half off his back in a season in which Bergeron is paced for less than 30 points.
The Bruins are back in action with a Monday night head-to-head with the Panthers at TD Garden.