The Bruins picked up 2 more points Saturday afternoon, delivered off the stick of Charlie Coyle, who buried a short-range wrister only 34 seconds into overtime as the finishing touch in a 4-3 comeback win over the Sabres before a sellout 17,850 at the Garden.
Coyle, the last in a line of teammates to be released from COVID protocol as the weekend approached, nailed in his shot off a feed from Brad Marchand, punctuating a comeback that saw Nick Foligno and Taylor Hall score goals early in the third period to erase a two-goal Buffalo lead.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Black-and-Gold and came in what was their first game in more than two weeks, a fortnight that included the franchise being shut down by the NHL for nearly a week amid nearly half the roster (11 players total) testing positive due to another COVID-19 outbreak.
All of which made Saturday, their first game since Dec. 16, a second season of sorts. A chance to reset, restart, and try to establish some consistent offensive assertiveness — a quality mysteriously lacking over the first 26 games of the season.
“The willingness, I’ll agree, hasn’t been there 100 percent of the time,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, asked during his post-game interview to assess what often has been a spotty attack. “I think we are a work-based team — a team that brings effort. And it’s incumbent on us as a [coaching] staff to make sure it shows up every night in the leadership group.”
It’s an “every night league” reminded Cassidy, noting the need for club veterans, younger players and recent free-agent hires, including the likes of Hall and Foligno, to play to their identity. For decades, the Bruins trademark has been hard work, particularly around the attacking net, something that has waned or failed to be present at all this season. The growl has been gone, some nights replaced by barely a shrug.
“I lump us into that group,” said Cassidy, referring back to effort. “We need to do it, at least to build toward the full 60 minutes, not be a 30- or 40-minute outfit … make sure we are building toward 60.”
The win was the first this year for the Bruins when trailing by two goals or more after the 40:00 minute mark (previously 0-5-0 in those situations). Until Coyle’s winner, they also never held a lead over the Sabres. They previously were 0-6-2 when finishing a night with 00:00 in lead time.
Foligno connected for his first as a Bruin, and his first of the season, potting a doorstep backhander after Jake DeBrusk’s bold, speedy rush to the net off right wing. It was a flash of Old Jake. He zipped by the Buffalo defense, mashed a forehander near the right post, and Foligno pocketed the loose change for his 204th career goal.
“A lot of credit goes to Jake DeBrusk,” said Foligno, 1-4—5 in his 19 games as a Bruin. “He just powered himself to the net. If he can do that, I’ll get to the net and try to put those in. So it was nice to see our line [with Coyle at center] connect on that and get our team going.”
Hall, dealt here from Buffalo at last season’s trade deadline, finished off a drag-and-snap wrister from close range off the rush. Hall, Erik Haula and new linemate David Pastrnak, borrowed from the No. 1 unit, came into the zone on a 3-on-2 rush and Hall fired home the equalizer after a fullbacking Haula cleared some space in the low slot.
“Good job by Erik Haula driving the net,” said Cassidy. “It started with good work in the D zone. Structure was good. They win a puck back and we have a good attack, support, and again, structure.”
Despite being able to muster but 14 shots over the opening 40 minutes, the Sabres carried the 3-1 lead into the third period, including Alex Tuch’s late dagger, a power-play strike with only 49 seconds to go before the second intermission.
Vinny Hinostroza opened the scoring with his sixth of the season, connecting only 6:33 into the first on what was Buffalo’s second shot on Linus Ullmark.
Ullmark, making his fourth start in the club’s last five games, understandably looked a bit rusty at the start, improved as the day went on, and finished with 23 stops.
“Been a long time since we played our last game,” said Ullmark, now 8-5-0 and his save percentage at .919. “There’s certainly going to be some rust there, going into it. But I thought as the game went on we played better and better, myself included. Just nice to get a comeback win.”
The Bruins needed until 3:47 of the second to pull even, 1-1, when Craig Smith slipped in a doorstep backhander off a rebound of Marchand’s slapper from the top of the right circle. A sandpaper goal for the gritty Smith, who mashed the puck across the goal line as he was flattened at the edge of the crease.
But the Sabres were back on the plus side of life at 11:32 on Skinner’s 10th of the season, the ex-Carolina striker burying a wrister from the right circle after a loose puck popped into the danger zone off Marchand. The Sabres were back out front, 2-1, and still only had a dozen shots on net.
Tuch, once a prized first-round pick by the Wild, made quick work of potting a slick backhand feed by Peyton Krebs for the two-goal lead. It was Tuch’s first goal since joining the Sabres from Vegas, along with Krebs, in the high-profile deal that sent ex-BU star Jack Eichel to the Golden Knights.
The Sabre lead was up to 3-1, and it vanished less than five minutes into the third, and disappeared entirely into a New Year’s Day fog when Coyle pumped home the winner.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.