BOSTON – A fluke. That’s all the Bruins’ 7-4 loss to the Sabres was. Sure, the Sabres deserve credit for taking advantage of the Bruins’ mistakes and refusing to go quietly after going down 3-1. But the Bruins lost this game more than the Sabres won it. They lost it by making defensive mistakes they almost never make. Had the Bruins even played an average game by their standards, they would have won going away.
Just take a look at the goals the Bruins gave up. Five of them came on inexplicable mistakes by players who have always been reliable defenders. Of the other two, one came on a 5-on-3 and one was an empty-netter.
On Buffalo’s first goal, it was perennial Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara who made the crucial mistake. He collected the puck at center ice and started moving toward the offensive zone. As he approached the blue line, Jason Pominville closed in on him.
Chara had an open passing lane to Milan Lucic, as well as the option to simply dump the puck in. Instead, he tried skating the puck into the zone himself — which isn’t exactly his strong suit anyway — and got his pocket picked by Pominville, leading to a Buffalo 2-on-1 and a Thomas Vanek goal.
Later in the second period, it was reigning Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron who got caught out of position on the goal that tied the game at 3-3. Tyler Ennis had just missed connecting on a cross-crease pass to Marcus Foligno, leading to a bit of a scramble.
The Bruins actually recovered pretty well and came out of the scramble in decent shape. They had four of the five Sabres marked, but Bergeron got caught drifting toward the puck and completely lost track of Ennis, who found himself wide open on the doorstep to bury a pass from Vanek.
The third period featured even more mistakes. Less than a minute after taking a 4-3 lead, the Bruins allowed Buffalo to tie it right back up. Once again, they managed to turn a situation that they had under control into a complete mess. The Sabres rushed up ice 3-on-3, but the Bruins played it well. Adam McQuaid and Chris Kelly took away the passing options and Andrew Ference forced Jochen Hecht to take the puck behind the net.
The three Sabres involved in the rush were already taken care of, but for some reason Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell both collapsed to the net on the backcheck. That allowed a trailing Alexander Sulzer to walk into the circle untouched and blast a one-timer past Rask.
Buffalo’s fifth and sixth goals started with identical plays by Vanek — the self pass off the boards. On the fifth, Johnny Boychuk got caught flat-footed and failed to play the body, leading to a 2-on-1 and a goal by Cody Hodgson. On the sixth, Dennis Seidenberg made an ill-advised pinch in the offensive zone and missed both puck and body, leading to another 2-on-1 (this time against a stickless Rich Peverley) and Vanek’s third goal of the game.
More often than not, the Bruins don’t even make one of those careless mistakes in a game, never mind five of them. Considering that the Bruins have been one of the top five defensive teams in the NHL each of the last four seasons, and that they were off to a good start this year, it’s a pretty safe bet that there won’t be too many more games like Thursday night.
Obviously the Bruins have some things they need to fix before they face Toronto on Saturday, but they should be easy fixes. It’s not like they need to make any drastic changes. They just need to play the way they usually play and not give away goals. As long as they do that, Thursday’s loss will be remembered as nothing more than what it was — a fluke.