BUFFALO – The night began to unravel early for the Bruins when team captain Patrice Bergeron was too dinged up with a lower body injury to suit up vs. the Sabres.
Bergeron is the Black-and-Gold’s glue guy, the future Hall-of-Famer’s smarts, skill, and execution typically the bonding agents to their offensive and defensive success.
It was no Bergeron, no glue, no hope Friday night.
The sad sack Sabres, paced by a Sam Reinhart hat trick and steady work in net by Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in his NHL debut, moved to the lead in the second period and held on for a relatively easy, low-contact 6-4 win over the Bruins.
“I’m not going to say we lost the game because Bergy wasn’t playing,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’s a big part of every facet of our game, but there’s other guys certainly capable. I don’t think he had any effect on guys not being hard enough on pucks or playing a more determined game — that’s on the individual and on me to get it out of ‘em.”
The Sabres also chased Bruins starting tender Tuukka Rask, after he surrendered the 4-1 lead early in the third. Jaro Halak took over in relief and promptly allowed Reinhart’s second of the night when Charlie Coyle errantly flipped the puck into the slot to set up the Sabres forward for the easy strike.
The loss clipped the Bruins’ season-best winning streak at six games, and it was their first loss since adding Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar, and Mike Reilly at the trade deadline.
Steve Kampfer (1-2—3), Nick Ritchie, Kevan Miller, and Hall had the Bruins goals, the Bruins chipping away to cut the Sabres lead to 5-4 late in the third. Ritchie, now with 12 goals this season, also scored here in Thursday’s 5-1 victory. Miller had not scored a goal since December 2017. He connected with 4:35 remaining in the third, followed by Hall with 2:48 to go to make it a one-goal game.
Finally, with Halak pulled for an extra skater, Reinhart polished off the hat trick with 41.9 seconds to go from long range to close it.
“We lost some puck battles tonight,” mused Cassidy, his club notably tired and not physically engaged. “I thought our breakout at times looked very good . . . other times, we just self-inflicted ... on a whole, it’s clearly not going to be good enough to win most nights.”
The Bruins stood on strange ground at the 40:00 mark: the Sabres held a 3-1 lead, the first time since April 11 the Bruins trailed by a pair and the first time in six games that they did not have a lead after two periods, ending their season high streak.
After falling behind on the Bruins’ first shot of the game (Kampfer), the Sabres connected once in the first period and twice more in the second, setting them up nicely for only their 13th win of the season in 48 games.
Luukkonen, 6-4 and 220 pounds, then snuffed out the next 17 Boston shots through 40 minutes, allowing the Sabres to get their game together and start popping in goals on Rask.
The 1-1 equalizer, by Reinhart, came with only 4:20 gone in the first, with Reinhart connecting on a David Pastrnak-like one-timer from the left wing dot while on the power play (Matt Grzelcyk in the sin bin). It was the 10th shot of the night on Rask, while the Bruins had but three to that point against the massive Luukkonen (the fifth goalie to play this season for the Sabres).
Rasmus Dahlin, the talented young backliner, connected for the go-ahead goal, 2-1, with 6:54 gone in the second. The Sabres took advantage of a Boston line change and Dahlin walked into the slot from his point position and nailed in a mid-range wrister for the lead. Rask was victimized by a heavy screen, including some by Charlie McAvoy, low in the slot. The Boston defense was way too accommodating, allowing Dahlin easy entry to a high-danger spot.
The Sabres were back for one more before the second intermission, with Casey Mittelstadt snapping the 3-1 lead home from the lower-inner edge of the right wing circle.
The beating continued in the third when Arttu Ruotsalainen snapped a 25-footer by Rask on the glove side to boot the lead up to 4-1.
That was it for Rask, who moved to the bench and was relieved by Jaro Halak, the backup getting his first action since April 3. Rask gave up four goals on 26 shots, across 41:14.
“He’s obviously our captain, but beyond that he’s just a great player, right?” said Miller, asked to define Bergeron’s overall meaning to the lineup. “He takes care of the puck on both sides, offense and defense. We didn’t lose because we were without Bergy. We lost because we didn’t play well — but, you know, it doesn’t hurt to have him in the lineup.”