Through six games, the Bruins had posted a 5-0-1 record. In the seventh, the Sabres proved the Bruins can bleed.
On Thursday before 17,565 at TD Garden, the Sabres hung a 7-4 thumping on the Bruins to tag them with their first loss. Buffalo’s No. 1 line of Thomas Vanek, Cody Hodgson, and Jason Pominville combined for five goals and six assists to lead the offensive abuse of Tuukka Rask.
The Bruins committed a series of uncharacteristic defensive miscues: puck watching, untimely pinches, missed coverages. They deserved what they got.
The Bruins entered the night averaging only 2.0 goals against per game. They hadn’t allowed a third-period goal all season. The Sabres torched both those standards, scoring four in the third period.
“Defensively, I don’t think I remember the last time we were this bad,” said coach Claude Julien. “The breakdowns and the mistakes we made, when you give Vanek those kinds of opportunities, he’s going to make the most of it. I don’t think we were extremely good down on defense. That’s what cost us the game tonight.”
During the loss, a parade of Bruins retreated to the dressing room. Patrice Bergeron appeared to hurt his right arm after crashing into the boards. Dougie Hamilton took a Drew Stafford elbow in the face. Daniel Paille didn’t finish the game after eating a Tyler Myers high stick.
The player the Bruins didn’t expect to see skate off was their toughest. Shawn Thornton, cuffed repeatedly by Buffalo tough guy John Scott almost three minutes in, never returned after serving his five-minute fighting major in the penalty box. The Bruins did not release an update on Thornton’s condition.
“He’s been a great team guy here for the last six years,” Milan Lucic said. “He takes a lot of pride in what he does in sticking up for himself and his teammates. He’s a great team guy. He’s an important person to this hockey club.
“Knowing him, he’s a tough guy. He’ll try and get back as soon as he can.”
The 6-foot-8-inch, 270-pound Scott is one of the NHL’s scariest fighters. At 2:53 of the opening period, the first-year Sabre showed why. Thornton and Scott lined up for a faceoff. As soon as the puck dropped, the two dropped their mitts.
Scott immediately grabbed a handful of Thornton’s jersey with his left hand. Scott used his reach to hold Thornton off, then pulled out his right hand to pound on the Bruins’ enforcer. After taking a flurry of rights, Thornton fell to the ice. A wobbly Thornton needed help from linesman Michel Cormier to get to his skates. Thornton never paused at the bench before retreating to the dressing room.
“This is part of the game,” Julien said of the fight. “Scott did his job. That’s his job for them. Shawn did his job for us. Those things happen. You win some, you lose some. At the same time, I don’t think it deflated our team. We were in the lead 3-1 halfway through the second.”
After a scoreless first, the Bruins shook off the effects of Thornton’s injury in the second. Vanek gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead at 1:38. But the Bruins responded with three straight strikes. Rich Peverley roofed a shot over Ryan Miller at 5:12. Then Brad Marchand popped in a pair of goals.
First, Marchand sprinted past Myers, then dangled around Jordan Leopold before tucking a backhander past Miller. On his second goal, some hard-hat offensive-zone digging by Tyler Seguin opened some room for Marchand. The left wing didn’t hesitate, burying a shot at 10:54.
“With Tyler, we’ve talked about being more assertive,” Julien said. “When he’s more assertive, he’s more sure of everything he’s going to do. It makes him that much of a better player. I thought he did a good job tonight, because he was one of the main reasons Brad scored on that.”
But the Sabres wiped out their two-goal deficit by pouring in six of the next seven pucks. The goals were the kind the Bruins don’t usually allow. Vanek scored his second at 16:46 of the second on a five-on-three power play. Later, the Bruins flooded the strong side of the defensive zone, which left Tyler Ennis unmarked at the far post. Ennis buried his chance at 18:19, tying the game at 3.
“We usually pride ourselves on our defense and being a hard team to play against,” Peverley said. “They had a lot of chances tonight from in close. You can’t fault Tuukka for any of the goals. We’ll have to regroup here and look to really play a better defensive game against Toronto [on Saturday].”
In the third, Dave Krejci put the Bruins back on top at 1:45, but the rest was Buffalo.
Vanek and Hodgson pulled away for a two-on-one rush after Johnny Boychuk was caught up ice. Hodgson tapped in a short-range shot for the winner at 6:54. Late in the third, Vanek and Hodgson executed a two-on-zero breakaway. Rask (25 saves) didn’t have any chance at stopping Vanek’s doorstep goal, his third of the game.
“Half of our game was good,” Julien said. “We had lots of scoring chances. We had lots of shots. When you score four goals with our team, that’s usually enough. I don’t remember the last time we had seven goals scored against us. It’s very uncharacteristic of our hockey club. That’s why we lost the game tonight.”Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.