Rising from the ashes

BOSTON – They were down two goals to Ryan Miller, the best goalie on the planet and arguably the most valuable player in the National Hockey League. 

Present the situation to the Boston Bruins a month ago and it’s game over. That was a team that would have rolled over and played dead. The Cowardly Lion disguised in hockey sweaters.

Now, with the calendar and the team’s focus squarely on the playoffs, it is merely another obstacle to be overcome.

“I think we’re confident,” forward David Krejci said. “We know we can score now, but we don’t want to be overconfident. You know, just go out here and play the same way we finish the games”

The Bruins beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in double overtime on Wednesday night to take a three games to one lead in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. What’s even more amazing is that they’ve only managed to hold a lead for essentially 20 minutes of hockey over the first four games of the series, while Buffalo has the ticker at 140 minutes and counting. That would include giving up the first goal in all four games and the first two in Saturday’s Game 2 and on Wednesday night.

“We don’t want to get in the habit, that’s for sure, but guys showed a lot of character,” forward Mark Recchi said. “I don’t think we were that great early and they played hard, but we got better as it went on and showed a lot of desperation and we needed it.”

Somewhere (almost magically) during the last 35 days, a hockey club that was desperately searching for answers suddenly can do no wrong. Not that anyone from the City of Boston should be booking tickets to the Stanley Cup Final, but when you consider where the club was on March 18, when they were thoroughly embarrassed on home ice trying to seek retributionfor Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard, it is surely a giant leap in the right direction.

Savard watched Game 4 from the ninth floor press area at TD Garden and has skated with his club over the last few days. Not only is a return a distinct possibility, but it could come as soon as the next round, where the Bruins could match up against, of all teams, Pittsburgh and Cooke.

That is a tale for another day, as we shouldn’t ignore the no-named afterthoughts who have paved the way for Bruins over the last week of hockey. No names like Miroslav Satan, signed off the scrapheap to provide a much-needed scoring punch, Vladmir Sobotka, who has been in the middle of every extra-curricular skirmish, and Johnny Boychuk, who’s physical presence knocked Matt Ellis out of Game 4 (legally), and created the forecheck that set up Patrice Bergeron’s game-tying goal in the third period.

And then there’s the ringer-goon they spawned in Buffalo’s Cody McCormick, who was called up from the AHL’s Portland Pirates to throw the body around and play physical.

The presence of the 6’2″, 215 lb. bruiser, who has racked up a total of 250 penalty minutes in 190 career NHL games was immediately felt, taking a keen dislike to Sobotka from the opening whistle, like they had in starting an all-out line brawl during an AHL game back in October. Just 2:12 into the game, the Bruin center and teammate Adam McQuaid responded by double-teaming McCormick into the boards, but in turn left Tim Kennedy wide open in the slot, beating Rask and giving Buffalo a 1-0 lead.

McCormick was also involved in the most controversial play of the evening, as his interference call for plowing into Rask two minutes into the third period led to the Bruins first goal, a rebound of a Matt Hunwick shot off the stick of David Krejci and by Miller, that set the TD Garden abuzz and Sabres bench boss Lindy Ruff into a tizzy.

“The call on [Cody] McCormick wasn’t a call,” Ruff said. “Their own guy took their goaltender out … I thought we were getting a power play on the McCormick play…their own guy took the goaltender out. Pretty big swing in momentum for us.”

That swing in momentum led to a shift in the pace of the game, from a physical grind to a back and fourth up-tempo symphony of chances at that led to a goaltending duel between Miller and Tuukka Rask, with the duo trading acrobatic saves at each end of the ice.

Rask robbed Mike Grier by going right to left in mid air late in the third period, while Miller stopped Miro Satan’s overtime attempt on his back by flailing his glove and catching the puck, like a shortstop would a ground ball. And while neither goalie would make ‘the mistake’, it was Drew Stafford’s botched line change that led to a too many men call that resulted in Satan’s game-winning goal.  

A game-winning goal that would have never happened if the Sabres were able to hold the lead, or if they had run into that lifeless hockey club that occupied this building a month ago.

“We let them back in,” Stafford said. “I thought we had a lot of chances and we didn’t put them away.  We let it go to the two overtimes.  It is just really frustrating and unfortunate that it happened.  It is just disappointing.”

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