- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- In a game the media had billed as a potential bloodbath or return to the old 1980s and '90s Adams Division battles between the Bruins and Sabres that were full of fights and hard hitting, Thursday's 7-4 win by the Sabres looked more like a Smythe Division shootout between the Jets and Wayne Gretzky's Oilers.
The Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres combined for 11 goals and 74 shots on net in a wild one at TD Garden. Even more bizarre than the score was the performance by the normally Bruins’ stingy defense.
On Thursday the Bruins were lit up by Thomas Vanek, who had a hat trick and five points, along with linemates Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville, who each had a goal and two assists. This was not the Claude Julien-coached Bruins whom fans and opponents know.
"I thought offensively we did a good job, we had a lot of chances, we scored four goals. Defensively, I don't think I remember the last time we were this bad," Julien said. "The break downs and mistakes we made and the opportunities, when you give Vanek those kind of opportunities, he's going to make the most of it. So, I don't think we were extremely good on defense and that's what cost us the game tonight."
Oddly enough, the Sabres were one of three teams (Florida and Tampa Bay being the others) to light the lamp six times against the Bruins last season, in a 6-0 win in Buffalo. But with the way the Bruins had started the season and were playing their trademark defensively sound game with a solid transition up ice and a physical presence, this came as a shock to Julien. The Bruins’ bench boss wasn't done letting it be known just how disgusted he was with his team's effort defensively. Like everyone else in the building, Julien was thinking his team would be engaged in a physical and tightly played game, but instead he watched the B's fall back into what resembled a game of shinny.
"I didn't expect this type of game because it wasn't our type of game," Julien said. “When you look at the way we played -- the sloppiness of guys left by themselves around our net, the puck-watching all over the place -- it was really a disappointing, I guess, loss in a way, where our guys defensively were just totally, totally out of it. The mistakes we made, when you look back at the play, it's either guys -- we had four guys watching the puck when [Tyler] Ennis is on the other side, all by himself. We were told before the game to have our head on a swivel. They really activate a lot in the offensive zone and our guys, defensively, I guess you would say, brain dead."
Unfortunately for Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, he had to play behind the turnstile defense and admitted it wasn't fun.
"Almost broke my neck there, I think, with that lamp lighting up. Just a great defensive battle out there," Rask sarcastically quipped after the game. "We gave up a lot of odd-man rushes, and then those two-on-ones, just a quick pass to the backdoor and one-timers in. Obviously, we have to get better on that. Too many times I think we just let those guys stand in front of the net by themselves. The puck-watching, it's not like us, so we just got to fix that."
But like his coach, Rask didn't stop and unload on his defense, just as Buffalo’s offense did.
"As much as I like to blame myself too, letting up six goals, I don't know if I had any chance," Rask said bluntly. "I think it was one of, probably the top three ever I've played -- the way those mistakes happened. But it's hockey. Those things happen throughout the season. It really was uncharacteristic for us, for sure. It's just brain farts out there. We're letting guys stand in front of the net for five seconds by themselves. That's not us. That's not anybody in this league. It's not something that's tough to fix. We just got to be mentally sharp and get back to our game defensively."
But just as Rask tries to put his own bad games behind him, he wasn't planning on reminding his teammates just how poor a game they played defensively. He's confident that the Bruins will learn a lesson from what will hopefully otherwise be a forgettable game.
"They know they made mistakes. Everybody made mistakes," said Rask, who admitted he could've been better too. "It's not a big deal. I'm not going to harp on them because they try. I try. Everybody tries. Sometimes things just aren't going your way."
Rask went on to point out that a run-and-gun, wide-open game isn't what the Bruins are about. With all the talk about a fight-filled and physical game coming into it, the Bruins, arguably the most physical and stingiest team in the NHL, forgot their bread-and-butter for a night and paid dearly for it.