BUFFALO — Late to find their offense, with coach Bruce Cassidy all but applying for a search warrant to find a willing/able scorer on his bench, the Bruins came up with a pair of late goals, including an improbable Sean Kuraly overtime winner to pin a 3-2 loss on the Sabres on Saturday night at KeyBank Center.
Kuraly, a third- and fourth-liner during his 1½ seasons in Black and Gold, ultimately saw regular duty on the top line with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak as the night played out.
“I’ve never played with them before,” noted Kuraly, who scored with 1:16 to go in OT. “So it was fun . . . I’ve had a front-row seat to watch them for a while, so it was good, it was fun to play with them.”
Stymied to muster quality scoring chances through most of the night, the Bruins were on the brink of their third consecutive regulation loss when Jake DeBrusk tipped home the 2-2 equalizer with 2:29 remaining in regulation. His back to former UMass Lowell goalie Carter Hutton at the top of the crease, DeBrusk put a perfect deflection to Torey Krug’s 50-foot wrister on the power play.
“He tried to hit me earlier, actually when he was down low,” said DeBrusk, noting the setup by Krug, who picked up his 19th assist of the season. “I kind of fanned on it, then gave it right back to him. Once he was coming up, as a net-front guy, you are looking for one-timers, trying to get in the goalie’s eyes. But Torey looked right at me and I knew it was coming — it was perfect shot for me to tip — and obviously a relief to see it go in.”
The win kept the Bruins from what would have matched their worst skid of the season, equaling their 0-3-0 at the start of the month. Instead, it snapped their funk and provided a mental boost before setting up shop Sunday in South Bend, Ind., ahead of Tuesday’s Winter Classic showdown with the Blackhawks.
Tuukka Rask also snapped a personal two-game losing streak, turning in 26 saves, the biggest of which came with 2:10 remaining in the second when he snared a Remi Elie wrister off the left wing on a 2-on-1 rush. Krug blew a play up ice, setting up the odd-man rush against John Moore, and the quick glove by Rask kept the Boston deficit at 2-1 headed into the third.
“It was one of those 2-on-1’s, with guys wide,” noted Rask, who improved to 9-8-2 for the season, “and it became his only option to shoot it. But you know, it’s like the 2-on-1 they scored before [a Johan Larsson strike] . . . you want to make that save because the score is tight. The first one I didn’t, and luckily the second one I did.”
Without veteran forwards Brad Marchand (injury) and David Backes (suspension), Cassidy kept churning his lines in hopes of finding offensive spark. For much of the night, the combos didn’t click, at least not enough for the coach to be satisfied with what he saw.
Danton Heinen began on Bergeron’s left, but Cassidy abandoned that plan early in the first. Swiss Army knife Joakim Nordstrom rode there for a while, but not long. Finally, Cassidy went with the fast, straight-lined Kuraly, his willingness not to be doubted, but overall skill not considered classic top-six material. But it worked. At least for a night.
“He was tremendous for us tonight, playing a lot of big minutes for us,” said Bergeron. “And making some great plays. Obviously, that game-winner was a great effort for him.”
Barreling into the left-wing faceoff circle as overtime was counting down, Kuraly first struck Hutton with a sharp wrister. The rebound remained hot in the slot and the 6-foot-2-inch, long-armed Kuraly charged ahead and knocked it by Hutton with a one-armed tap. It was his third goal of the season and by far his best goal celebration.
“He secretly has some hands sometimes,” said a smiling DeBrusk. “And he likes to clutch it up, especially in overtime.”
Kuraly, of course, provided a double-OT winner against Ottawa in the 2017 playoffs.
“So he’s been known to do that,” acknowledged DeBrusk. “It was kind of funny, because he was trying to change actually, and [Cassidy] told him to stay — and then he went and scored. Nice play.”
The Sabres opened the scoring with a Marco Scandella strike 4:40 into the first, after Jeff Skinner blew by captain Zdeno Chara and muscled a backhander on Rask. Skinner, rebound, 1-0.
Noel Acciari, with his first goal this season, made it 1-1 just under five minutes later. Then came Larsson’s shorthanded strike, the eighth this year against the Bruins, early in the second, what soon began to look as though it would hold up as the winner.
Until Kuraly. Opportunity knocked and the former Miami-Ohio grinder bulled his way in on Hutton.
“I saw it was a forward I was coming down on,” explained Kuraly. “Then I just wanted to get it on net really. Then once I got it on net, I didn’t really expect it to come out like that. But it did, and I want to get something on it, and I got more than I expected.”