The clock was ticking down. So with the Bruins trailing by a goal and 1:55 remaining in what could have been a low point in a low season, Claude Julien pulled Tuukka Rask. Just 24 seconds later, the score was tied.
Dougie Hamilton — who Julien had earlier called “the future of our team” — sniped a shot past Jhonas Enroth from the right circle with Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand in front of the net. The score, Hamilton’s second of the game, guaranteed the Bruins at least a point against the Sabres.
It was a desperation moment for a team nearing desperation as it careened toward the Christmas break.
“It was kind of getting a little bit scary when we’re in a losing position,” Hamilton said.
The Bruins eventually got the full 2 points, courtesy of Loui Eriksson’s score at 2:14 of the extra period, his second overtime goal within a week giving them the 4-3 decision over Buffalo at TD Garden on Sunday night.
“It’s a huge swing,” said Milan Lucic, who had the primary assist on the winner. “You look at your division and what’s happened the last two days in the scores and in the standings. It’s huge if you don’t get the 2 points and how much further you fall back behind.
“But getting the 2 points gets you right back into it.”
Before that, it had looked ugly. Just 1:27 into the third period, Tim Schaller brought the puck around the back of the net and stuffed it in between Rask and the post. Rask said he “wasn’t ready” for the wide-angle wraparound.
“It’s a tough bounce, but maybe it’s something in a perfect world I should have, but I’m not going to stand here and start blaming myself for it,” he said.
Still, it wasn’t a good moment for the Bruins, even though they had been playing well enough to win, even though they had had chances.
The Sabres, after all, were a team in the second game of a back-to-back, a team fighting a bug, a team without the talent of the Bruins. The goal made the score 3-2, where it stayed until the final minutes of the period.
“I think it was a gut check,” Julien said. “I credit the guys for battling; that was a tough goal to swallow there at the beginning of the third, trickles in. We just kept plugging away and took a long time to get the goal, but we did and you win in overtime.
“Wins are tough to come by these days, so when you get them, you take them, and you try to build on the positives.”
The Bruins started the scoring with a backdoor power-play goal by Hamilton, playing the role of Reilly Smith, on a pass from Carl Soderberg at 5:52 of the first. It was just the second power-play goal in 16 games for the Bruins.
And it came 20 seconds after the Bruins had another goal waved off, this time on a very questionable goalie interference call.
As Julien said, “First of all, [Eriksson] doesn’t hit [Enroth], he barely touches his glove. It’s kind of a flash screen is what we call it and he’s in position. I guess it’s another non-goal that I’m sure we’ll hear should’ve been a good goal later on. But it’s what we keep going through.”
That was followed by Andrej Meszaros — yes, that Andrej Meszaros — who received a pass from Chris Stewart at the goalmouth and beat Rask, caught leaning right at 6:06 of the second.
It didn’t get better. Not only did the Bruins give up the lead to the Sabres, but the goal came off the stick of Torey Krug, in an unfortunate bounce. The hockey gods made up for it when, exactly a minute later, at 15:36, Chris Kelly deflected a Chara shot past Enroth.
The Kelly goal came on the first shift on which Eriksson had been returned to the line with Kelly and Soderberg, after Eriksson started the game on the first line.
After it was over, there was happiness in the Bruins’ dressing room. There was relief. But, as Chara said, “I don’t think we are in the position that we can be comfortable.”
No, they can’t be. Not with their position in the standings. Not with Lucic again commenting on the team’s tendency to get deflated when getting scored on, something that crept into their game earlier in the season. Not with the Bruins still trying to find consistency and scoring and points.
“We needed this win,” David Krejci said. “If it was in overtime or regulation, it doesn’t really matter at this point. We need the 2 points and we got one more game before Christmas break, so hopefully we can get another 2 points and have a nice holiday.”