Taylor Hall was playing his first game in 10 days. Before he made the 450-mile drive to Boston, the Sabres were sitting him out in advance of a trade. Not only was he learning a new team Tuesday, he was knocking off rust.
The same applied to Curtis Lazar, who hadn’t suited up since March 31 because of a nagging injury.
The new guys are fitting in fine.
Hall helped create a goal in the second period, Lazar’s energetic work helped snap the Bruins out of an early funk, and ex-Senators blue liner Mike Reilly was a puck-moving, minute-eating plus for the Bruins in a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres.
“I don’t want to overanalyze that in his first night here,” coach Bruce Cassidy said of Hall’s positioning and details, as he praised him for being a dangerous attacker and good backchecker. Lazar did his job, even on a third-period shift that ended with the fourth line eating the tying goal.
Midway through the first, though, that Sean Kuraly-Lazar-Chris Wagner trio woke up the Bruins with the kind of grinding, physical, wear-’em-down stint that has been all too rare from Boston’s grunts this year. The speedy Lazar also kick-started a second-period rush, showing solid hands, vision and net drive.
Reilly, meanwhile, landed a game-high five of six shot attempts, threw a pair of hits and logged 22:17, second only to Charlie McAvoy (25:04), on a defense still missing Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk.
“I would be,” Cassidy said, when asked if he would be inclined to use all three players in the same spots Thursday against the Islanders.
Shootout goals from Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk and the ace work of Jeremy Swayman (21 saves) saved the Bruins from what would have been a frustrating loss, given how they let the Sabres hang around. Those who went unrewarded included David Pastrnak (zero goals in his last six games and two in his last 12), who misfired on a one-timer in close in the dying seconds of regulation.
DeBrusk’s forceful, confident shot in extras made good, after the Sabres knotted it at 11:53 of the third. Rasmus Dahlin’s slapper deflected off two Bruins and eluded Swayman, tying the game at 2.
In overtime, Hall had a 2 on 1 rush with David Krejci, but couldn’t beat Sabres netminder Dustin Tokarski (29 saves). Swayman made a pair of OT stops, including one on ex-Bruin Anders Bjork, and the Sabres had a high-stick goal from Dylan Cozens immediately waved off.
Swayman, the 22-year-old rookie making his fourth career start (3-1-0, 2.21 GAA, .926 SP), was emotional after the Friday passing of his coach at Maine, Dennis “Red” Gendron. He pointed to the sky after the Bruins won.
“I loved Red so much,” Swayman said quietly afterward. “He’s going to be a role model for the rest of my life.”
His spirits quickly rose. Smiling, he revealed that shootouts are “my favorite part of hockey,” he said. “I think they’re the best part of the game if you get there.”
The Bruins won their third in a row over the Sabres, snapping a two-game losing streak during which they were drubbed, 8-1, by the Capitals on Sunday. The Bruins (22-12-6) have five more games against their last-place foe (10-25-7) over the final month.
No doubt the Bruins were fired up by the presence of Hall, who left TD Garden without his first point as a Bruin because of a stingy official scorer.
A dynamic player in transition, Hall’s rush with his linemates set up Craig Smith’s goal at 5:29 of the second. Hall flubbed a give-and-go with Smith, but the red-hot winger zipped a loose puck past Sabres backup Tokarski at 5:29 of the period.
Hall’s no-look drop to Smith ticked off two Sabre sticks, but he deserved an ‘A’, particularly for shedding Cozens as he carried through the neutral zone.
Smith, playing in his 700th career game, was energized all night. He now has a five-game point streak (3-5—8). He was named first star.
“I think he’s world-class, his ability to create, the way he shoots the puck and the way he sees the game,” Smith said of Hall. “When I’m playing against him, I’m watching him to see what he’s doing.”
The Bruins were watching the Sabres score at 1:52 of the first, thanks to two ex-Bruins. Bjork, wearing No. 96, earned a secondary assist when defenseman Colin Miller ripped a point shot past Swayman.
Another issue with the Bruins of late: a lack of shots from the point getting through traffic and creating danger. They tied it when Jeremy Lauzon fired an urgent half-slapper at Tokarski, and Krejci potted the rebound at 13:20. Credit Ritchie — whose weak effort along the boards burned the Bruins on the first goal — and Smith with good work on the forecheck.
The Bruins’ stellar penalty work continued (3 for 3). They couldn’t break through with Hall and Reilly on the power play (0 for 1).
They came pounding on the Sabres’ door, but the last-place visitors didn’t have anyone to answer. Ritchie got the better of ex-Bruin Matt Irwin in a second-period bout. Kevan Miller did more than that to Tage Thompson. Miller, answering for a heavy hit he threw on Rasmus Asplund, toppled Thompson with a right cross to the jaw. Thompson (6 feet 7 inches, 210 pounds) is 5 inches taller than Miller.
Late in the second, Swayman announced his arrival with a diving glove save on Cozens. He was there at the end, smiling and pointing heavenward, embracing his teammates.
“We know he’s back there doing his thing,” Smith said. “He’s got a lot of energy.”