BUFFALO — The Sabres, the NHL gift that keeps on giving, proved ever so charitable again Thursday night, handing the Bruins a soft-serve 5-1 victory that delivered the Black-and-Gold neatly to the win column for the sixth consecutive time since the April 12 trade deadline.
Ranked dead last in the Original 31, the sad sack Sabres again weren’t good for much, other than helping their NHL East brethren pad their stats and shimmy their way tighter into the race among the division’s four playoff contenders.
Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak each picked up a goal and an assist, and Matt Grzelcyk, Nick Ritchie, and David Krejci all potted a goal apiece, the Bruins scoring all five goals at even strength. Challenged much of this season to score when playing at even money, the Bruins have turned into a 5-on-5 powerhouse with the start of the postseason but a month on the horizon.
Rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman, the ex-Maine Black Bear, turned aside 29 of 30 shots and improved his career (all of three weeks) record to 5-1-0. Swayman was solid, poised, ever in position, and rarely with his heart rate over 66 beats per minute against a Sabres squad that lacked both physicality and scoring sense whenever within serious shooting range of the Boston net.
“When we’re healthy, and get the puck moving from the back end, with clean exits, we’re going to score,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, his squad with 22 goals across the six wins, and 20 of the strikes at 5-on-5. “It showed tonight. We got some of that.”
A key, as Cassidy noted, has been defensemen helping out with the transition game, feeding forwards with passes to get into the attacking zone.
“We have the skill to generate,” added Cassidy, “and we’re getting a little bit more puck luck around the net, too.”
Ritchie, who had been 0-0—0 over the previous 10 games, knocked in his 11th of the season early in the third for the 4-1 lead. It was part of a three-goal burst in the third (other strikes by Pastrnak and Krejci) that buried the Buffalonians.
“Maybe our lines are playing more together,” said Ritchie, asked what he felt was the secret to the club’s revived 5-on-5 success. “The chemistry’s coming … it was going to come and I think it’s coming at the right time now. Anytime you can score goals 5-on-5, that’s where most of the game is played.”
The Bruins had hold of a 2-1 lead at the 40:00 mark — the sixth straight game that they entered the third period with the advantage. In the six-game run, they’ve outscored the opposition, 15-6, in the opening two periods.
The night got off an anxious start when top Bruins backliner Charlie McAvoy hit the deck in pain, felled by a seemingly harmless shot by Mattias Samuelsson. McAvoy remained down the ice, in obvious pain, for some 90 seconds before finally getting upright with some assistance from concerned teammates and making his way to the dressing room at 3:39. He was back on the bench at the 7:50 mark.
“He got stung by a shot, and you never know if that’s one that’s done some damage, or broke something,” said Cassidy, noting the initial anxiety around McAvoy being struck. “Or it’s one of those stingers, you’re numb and can’t go to the bench. Turned out it was the latter Hopefully there’s no residual effects tomorrow.”
The Bruins were first to get on the scoreboard, with Marchand connecting for his 25th of the season at the 12:36 mark of the first. He cashed in with a short-range forehander after Mike Reilly’s shot from the left point came to him low in the right wing circle.
Marchand, who entered the night ranked No. 4 in league scoring, boosted his line to 6-3—9 over the last six games.
Outshot by a 14-7 spread over the opening period, the Sabres pulled even, 1-1, with their 10th shot of the night at 5:27 of the second. Old friend Anders Bjork played a key role, setting up Arttu Ruotsalainen for the lone strike on Swayman.
The Bruins returned to the lead for good, 2-1, with Grzelcyk’s fourth of the season. Parked up toward the center point on a draw in the left wing circle, Grzelcyk connected with a 50-foot wrister that was tipped high in the zone by a Sabres defender.
Pastrnak, his goal-scoring touch gone cold of late, made it 3-1 at the start of the third with his 18th of the season. He is now 2-7—9 in the last six games.
“Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for him,” said Cassidy. “Because he’s fought it a little bit lately. Maybe this is exactly what he needs, a game like this to get him going a little bit.”