With six regulars out of the lineup, the Boston Bruins called upon their AHL affiliate (the Providence Bruins) to provide some relief. Ryan Spooner, Matt Fraser, Nick Johnson, Kevan Miller, David Warsofsky and Craig Cunningham have all made appearances for the NHL Bruins, who do their best to maintain position atop the Eastern Conference.
Four of those skaters took the ice on Saturday night, when the Bruins faced the Buffalo Sabres in the second night of a home-and-home two-game set.
The Sabres, who had beaten the depleted Bruins to a tune of 4-2 on Thursday night, looked to garner their first three-game winning-streak of the season, what would be an undeniable accomplishment for one of the NHL’s most suffering franchises.
Spooner, Fraser and Johnson, who had totaled for three points in 19 games combined, indicated frustrations (reiterated by their coach) about wanting to contribute more rather than “just being a part.”
On Saturday, their play drastically improved.
One of the best first period chances for the Bruins came off a Spooner-won faceoff, when Warsofsky, playing in only his second ever NHL game, blasted a one-timer on net.
Later in the first, many of the “replacements” contributed on the Bruins first goal of the game, coming on the man-advantage. Warsofsky had a nice keep-in on the blueline, followed by a Spooner and Patrice Bergeron back and forth, and they eventually fed the puck down low to Carl Soderberg who found Reilly Smith crashing in for the back door play.
“Well it’s because we’re confident in those guys,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien after the game, when asked about using Spooner and Warsofsky on the power play. “Right now, when you’re missing some of those power play guys – [Loui] Eriksson’s one of those good players that can play that position well and half-wall and with Spooner being a left-hand shot, same thing, he’s very good on the half wall. To us it was a logic decision to make. And then [David] Warsofsky has played the power play in Providence and I think he’s done a good job; when I saw him play I thought he handled the power play extremely well so we thought we’d give him an opportunity here too.”
Soderberg and Smith have had tremendous chemistry together on the power play all season long, and it continued Saturday night. The backdoor play has made a killing for them and the Bruins special teams unit.
“He’s got eyes on the back of his head so he sees everything,” said Smith postgame of Soderberg. “But it seems to work in games pretty well. Doesn’t work in practice, maybe because people are used to it, but if he gets that pass through I pretty much have an open net. So, he’s done a great job so far of getting the puck through and it’s just my job to find the back of the net.
Soderberg, Spooner and Fraser had by far their best game of the season on Saturday as well, backing Buffalo up in their own end on a number of shifts, contributing both on and off the score sheet.
After a Buffalo breakdown, Iginla led his line on a three-on-two rush, patiently holding onto the puck along the boards, before centering to David Krejci who dangled once and roofed it past backup netminder Jonas Enroth; the goal gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead after two periods of moment.
In a critical moment, the Bruins penalty kill unit came up huge, killing off an extended five-on-three man-advantage for the Sabres, who didn’t even get a shot on goal till the final seconds.
Spooner, having to fill in for one of the Bruins usual penalty killers, did a tremendous job with the opportunity, continuing to block shots, force players wide, play sound positional hockey and even create a scoring chance for himself at one point.
The Sabres took it to the Bruins at the start of the third period, pounding shots on net as a result of poor puck-management in their own end by the black and gold; Marchand, in particular, with a brutal turnover in close and failed clearing attempt led to some golden chances.
But, just like most of the bottom-dwellers in the NHL standings, a lost faceoff and brutal neutral zone play allowed the Bruins top line to gain easy entry into the zone, and eventually give the Bruins a two-goal lead.
Krejci and defenseman Torey Krug worked the puck back and forth beautifully, while Lucic found his spot in front of the net, and was eventually set-up by the perfect Krejci feed for his twelfth goal of the season.
After a recent skid, the Bruins top line looked to have regained its dominant form.
Smith added an empty net goal and it was all over from the Garden.