The Sabres came out hard. They played physical. They didn’t let up all night as they skated away with a 4-1 victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Friday night at HSBC Arena. The Bruins still have a 3-2 lead as the series shifts back to Boston for Game 6 at 7 p.m. on Monday at TD Garden.
It took the Bruins until the third to get into this game, but by that point it was too late as Buffalo gained a 3-0 advantage after two periods. Boston remains one victory away from closing out the series and advancing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It’s disappointing anytime you lose,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “It’s as simple as that. Are we going to hang our heads all the way back to Boston and feel sorry for ourselves? I don’t think so. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves and they battled back. That’s what we’re going to do and we plan on doing the same thing. That’s why it’s the best-of-seven and we’ve got to work on winning the next one.”
The Bruins weren’t surprised with the amount of intensity the Sabres produced in an all-out 60-minute effort.
“They were desperate and we weren’t,” said the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron. “We knew they would come out hard, we just didn’t match it.”
With the game clearly over, the Sabres’ Paul Gaustad slashed Bruins captain Zdeno Chara with .2 seconds remaining in regulation. Chara unleashed a variety of haymakers to any player around him in a blue sweater. An all-out scrum broke out and Boston hopes its response to Gaustad’s slash -- and its stepped-up play in the final period -- carries over into Game 6.
“We know we didn’t have our best game,” added Chara. “We came out flat and they came out really hard and desperate and we didn’t match it. Obviously we fell behind the eight ball right away and it almost took us the whole game to get going. We played better in the third, but it’s not going to get us to where we want to go if we play only 20 out of 60 minutes.”
Bruins rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask, who was very solid in the first four games of this series, had a bit of a hiccup in Game 5 and admitted as much after. Still, he’s so calm, you wouldn’t have known the final score by his demeanor.
“We know we have to be better,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we played good or bad in the third period. We have to be ready for the puck drop in the first period and today it wasn’t like that. It was kind of a no-emotional battle.”
Once the Sabres gained a 3-0 lead in the second period, Julien had no intentions of pulling Rask in favor of Tim Thomas in order to spark his team. The coach felt a move like that at this point would have been counterproductive.
“It doesn’t matter what I was thinking right now,” he said. “You always think of everything, whether it would have changed [the outcome], who knows? That would be like pointing a finger at Tuukka and I don’t think we should point the finger at Tuukka. We weren’t very good in front of him. He’s been good for us and we don’t play for another two days, so there’s lots of time for him to rest. I don’t think it was something we had to panic with.”
While Julien wasn’t about to point the finger at his goaltender, the coach was quick to challenge some of the other players who didn’t perform up to par.
“We had some guys tonight that weren’t good enough for us,” said Julien. “We’re a team that wins when everybody’s playing well and we need everybody going, and tonight we didn’t have that.”
The Bruins can at least take away from Friday’s loss the fact they played well in the final period.
“We had to,” said Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who scored Boston’s lone goal. “Our backs are against the wall, and being down 3-0, we have nothing to lose, so might as well go out there and give it all you’ve got. At least we played well in the third and maybe carry it over into the first period back at home.”