There are no guaranteed wins in the NHL. This is a league assembled for parity, from the salary cap to the 3-point games and the good fortune that’s required to win more than you lose.
That said, if anything resembled a slam dunk in the NHL, it was what the Bruins had coming on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
Buffalo is the worst team in the league. The Sabres entered the night without a win in their last seven games. They were playing their second game in two nights. Their roster is stuffed with borderline varsity players, ranging from Tim Schaller to Philip Varone to Zac Dalpe.
Buffalo is a team built to lose with the hopes of the ultimate win in June: the opportunity to select Connor McDavid as its reward for bottoming out.
The Bruins were lucky to get 1 point out of the decision.
The numbers say the Bruins deserved a better fate than a 2-1 shootout loss. They led in shot attempts, 95-47. They hammered Anders Lindback with 44 pucks. For the first 40 minutes, the Bruins looked like they were playing keepaway rather than hockey by grabbing a 26-10 shot advantage.
But the Bruins are at a stage where attaboys are not handed out for advantages in shot attempts or zone time. They need points. They only got 1 when 2, given the situation, were required.
The Senators took care of their business by beating the Hurricanes in overtime Tuesday, 2-1. Andrew Hammond tied a league record by launching his NHL career with 12 straight starts with three goals or fewer. This is the goalie the Bruins must stare down on Thursday. With Hammond in net, the Senators could close the gap to 2 points with a regulation win at Canadian Tire Centre.
“Right now, it’s about results,” Boston’s Patrice Bergeron said. “It’s definitely a big point that we let slip by.”
The Bruins lost the game in the shootout when Tyler Ennis beat Niklas Svedberg with a bar-down snipe. Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Torey Krug came up short against Lindback.
But the point eluded them earlier than that.
It was not acceptable for the Bruins to own just a one-goal lead after 40 minutes — a lucky one, at that. The only puck that slipped through Lindback came after an unfortunate bounce for the Sabres. After the Bruins won an offensive-zone faceoff in the first period, Adam McQuaid flipped the puck on goal. McQuaid’s shot bounced off Andre Benoit and skidded wide. Before Lindback could recover, Loui Eriksson found the rebound and tucked it inside the near post at 9:55 of the first.
Nothing else came close to beating Lindback in the first, when the Bruins held a 14-3 shot lead. Their scoring chances improved in the second. Lindback stuffed Marchand’s net-front backhand. Carl Soderberg went wide right after getting open in the slot. Late in the second, Lindback got a piece of Chris Kelly’s tip of Soderberg’s long-distance wrister.
Those missed chances bit the Bruins later.
“As the game goes on, you’ve got a 1-0 lead and you just can’t seem to get that second goal,” said coach Claude Julien. “Those are dangerous situations to be in when a team hangs around that long. Eventually they’re going to get a break somewhere, and they did.”
The Bruins helped them get that break. With less than three seconds left before second intermission, Soderberg took an offensive-zone holding penalty on Matt Moulson. It was completely unnecessary. The Sabres made the Bruins pay for the error.
At 1:23 of the third, Rasmus Ristolainen’s snap shot from the point bounced off Matt Bartkowski, changed direction, and sailed past Svedberg to tie the game at 1.
The Bruins should have shrugged off the bad bounce. They did not play the night before. They didn’t have to travel from Buffalo to Boston. The Bruins should have been the fresher and hungrier third-period team. But they only managed a 12-11 shot advantage in the third.
Lindback was sharp in the third. He punched out a Bergeron chance with his blocker. He got some help from his post when Kelly pinged one off the iron.
But Lindback didn’t have to work very hard to fight off traffic or see the shots.
“I think we could have made better choices on where to put pucks,” Julien said. “So many times it was right in his glove. It was an easy save where sometimes you could have shot for a rebound. We’ve got guys going to the net.
“Even around the net area, if we’re not going to be a little bit more hungry and heavy around the net area, you’re not going to get those loose pucks.”
The Bruins had some good players. Their best push came from their third line. Kelly, Soderberg, and Eriksson combined for 23 of the team’s 95 attempts, indicating how much they controlled both the puck and the pace. But the third-liners didn’t turn enough of those sniffs into strikes. Playing good hockey wasn’t good enough.