The Bruins don’t necessarily need Charlie Coyle to fill the net or stuff the stat sheet. But 28 games is a long goalless streak for a forward, particularly when the rest of their game isn’t quite there, and the playoffs are around the corner.
Seemingly energized by a recent switch from third-line center to right wing, Coyle’s game has been coming along. And as of Thursday, the longest drought of his nine-year, 618-game career is fini.
“No,” Coyle said with a chuckle, when asked if it was weighing on him. “It’s not about me and scoring goals. It’s about the team winning.”
In a 5-2 win over the scrappy Sabres at TD Garden, the Weymouth native broke a tie in the third period, and kick-started a run of three goals in the final 7:58.
“It was obviously the difference in the game,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He gave us the boost back. His type of goal. He took it to the net. Hopefully he builds off of that.”
Coyle picked off a Sam Reinhart pass in the neutral zone and held him off before beating Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen’s glove. The Bruins poured it on from there, with more magic from the top six.
The red-hot David Krejci-Taylor Hall connection made it 4-2, Krejci slipping by Rasmus Dahlin and undressing Henri Jokiharhu before giving Hall a tap-in.
“There’s nothing much to it,” Krejci said. “I knew Hallsy’s going to be there. Things happen really quick on the ice. I’m glad it worked out.”
Cassidy wasn’t quite buying that description. “That,” he said, “was an all-world play.”
With the Sabres’ net empty and 1:34 on the clock, Brad Marchand added to his club-record career shorthanded goal total (31). He picked off a pass and fired it top-shelf from 122 feet, quite a fine bit of marksmanship.
Good night, Buffalo.
Though far more talented, the Bruins (29-14-6) did not have an easy time Thursday. The greenhorn visitors (average age: 26 years) did not lack confidence.
Boston steamrolled through the first 10 minutes, then let up for nearly all of the next 10. They had a 2-1 lead at the first intermission after Krejci beat the clock, his power play one-timer rattling off the post, and Luukkonen’s back, before crossing the line with 0.3 ticks left.
The Sabres (13-31-7) tied it 1:43 into the third, catching three Bruins behind the net. Patrice Bergeron was helping Jeremy Lauzon. Charlie McAvoy had his stick in position to win the puck. But Jeff Skinner poked it to the slot, where an open Reinhart snapped it under the bar.
Buffalo, 7-8-2 since an 18-game losing streak that tarnished this season, had some promising chances, but couldn’t make Tuukka Rask (29 saves on 31 shots) sweat much.
Looking playoff-ready, Rask was calm no matter what Buffalo threw at him. Perhaps his most critical save: up 2-1, with 3:00 left in the second, he shut the five-hole on Dahlin, who had a clean breakaway out of the penalty box.
Buffalo got a few stellar stops from the rookie Luukkonen (35 saves on 39 shots), but he couldn’t bail out his teammates every time.
The B’s went ahead 1:16 in, after the Sabres turned it over against the Bergeron line. Buffalo, outshot by a 5-1 margin in the first nine minutes, broke out after McAvoy whiffed on a wrister at the point. But Marchand stole it at center ice, and Bergeron went no-look to Pastrnak (19th goal) in the left circle.
The Bruins were sloppy with the puck in the latter half of the first. They lost the lead at 14:09 after Pastrnak accidentally booted Kevan Miller’s breakout pass to the middle. Rask stopped a quick one-timer from Arttu Ruotsalainen, but Mittelstadt was all alone for the rebound.
Pastrnak drew a tripping call with 1:55 left in the first, and the Bruins’ second-unit power play restored the lead. After a flurry of chances in the final moments of the period. McAvoy danced at the top of zone and found Krejci for the buzzer-beater.
The Bruins couldn’t extend the lead with a second-period PP, after Pastrnak drew a hook on another rush. The winger, despite missing eight games this year, moved into 12th place in penalties drawn (19). More evidence that Pastrnak is finding it: he’s more cleanly hitting his shots. On his goal, Bergeron’s no-look feed was out in front, but Pastrnak placed the one-timer, short-side, from 42 feet out.
The fourth-place Bruins, now six points ahead of the fifth-place Rangers, saw the Capitals and Penguins clinch playoff spots on Thursday. They are one point back of the Islanders (64 to 65). The playoff contenders in the East are solidifying. The Bruins are dialing it in.