BUFFALO — All they had to do was make it 53 more seconds. The Bruins had, after being down by two goals, taken the lead on the Sabres in the third period Wednesday night. Buffalo was in its final minute, after pulling goalie Jhonas Enroth.
But the Bruins couldn’t finish it out, and they couldn’t keep the Sabres off the board in overtime. And so, after a bad start, a good middle, and an unfortunate end, the Bruins fell (again) to the worst team in the NHL, 5-4, on Matt D’Agostini’s goal just 22 seconds into the extra session.
“We’re a team that expects more, and to me, we should have walked out of here with a win,” coach Claude Julien said. “We had the game under control, and then we gave them that tying goal. It’s our own mistakes, even on that winning goal, not getting back quick enough.
“You’ve got to look at yourself and say, ‘We had the game under control with less than a minute left and we gave them that first point and gave them that second one.’ ”
The Bruins started off rusty, which was to be expected after a 17-day layoff filled with sunning and tanning (for some) and Sochi and hockey (for others). The Sabres had played the night before, which — in a rare turn of events — actually gave them the advantage to start.
But the Bruins turned that around, scoring four goals. They just didn’t manage to get the win, leaving Buffalo with one point in the standings, making for a postgame locker room filled with unhappy players. It was the first time all season that they had scored four goals in a loss.
“We hold ourselves to a pretty high standard,” Torey Krug said. “When you have an opportunity to get two points with a lead in the third period, we’re going to be disappointed when we don’t come out with two points. We just hold ourselves to that.”
The Sabres had used their lack of rust to open up an early lead on a Zemgus Girgensons goal 3:32 into the first period off a feed from Brian Flynn after he knocked Krug off his feet in the corner. Though the Bruins tied it at 10:47 on a Chris Kelly goal off a smooth pass from Carl Soderberg, they then went down by two, with Tyler Myers (power play) and Flynn netting goals in the second.
The Bruins trailed, 3-1, with half the game remaining. They had time. Their hands were back. They tied it in the second, getting a net-front, power-play goal from Zdeno Chara (11:01) and then a Brad Marchand score after Reilly Smith took the puck away from Sabres defenseman John Scott (17:46).
Then came what was supposed to be the winner, Milan Lucic blasting home a pass from Krug at 9:43 of the third after a Matt Moulson double minor for high-sticking.
Supposed to be.
“You score four goals, you should win those kind of games,” Julien said. “But we were definitely rusty defensively. The goals that we gave them are certainly not the way we normally give up goals. Some loose gaps, two goals around the slot area where we should have had a guy closer to them. And we needed some timely saves. We didn’t get them tonight.”
Moulson was the one who converted with 53 seconds remaining, knocking the puck past Chad Johnson to tie the game. “It was kind of a pass over and kind of lost it in his feet and it went right back to the guy,’’ said Johnson. “He just had a wide-open net. It’s just frustrating. It’s frustrating.”
And then the Sabres needed only those 22 seconds for D’Agostini to beat Chara down the ice, scoring unassisted and sending the Bruins home disappointed.
“I think he was surprised,” Julien said of Chara on the play. “I’m not sure. You’re going to have to ask him. But definitely we should have had that puck.”
There were still good moments, many provided by the third line of Kelly, Soderberg, and Loui Eriksson, who combined for 11 of the Bruins’ 33 shots. Kelly appeared to be skating significantly better on his healing fibula, and Eriksson, an Olympian, did not appear to be bothered by jet lag.
The Bruins had found their legs and their hands, and were able to shake off the lethargy they had to start.
But that wasn’t enough. Not with that kind of defensive effort.
“It was frustrating. I thought we played a good game,” Johnson said. “They just got some chances and they capitalized on it. They didn’t quit, right to the very end. I don’t know. It’s a frustrating game. You score four goals, you should win games like that. Just a really weird game.”
And that made it all the more difficult, that the Bruins were able to come back, erase a two-goal deficit, and score four goals. They had done all they had to win the game — almost.
“The most frustrating part about it is just the lead in the third period,” Krug said. “You put yourself in a good position to win a game. Unfortunately, we gave that away.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.