When the Bruins fell behind 2-0 on a Matt Ellis goal 12:00 into Game 2, the HSBC Arena crowd in Buffalo broke out into a deafening "Tooookkkaaa" chant, mocking the seemingly rattled Bruins rookie net-minder.
Tuukka Rask had shown such calm throughout the season to lead the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, but things were deteriorating. NBC play-by-play man Mike "Doc" Emerick, a member of the Hall of Fame, even asked partner Eddie Olzyck if Claude Julien should give Rask the hook.
As the game went on, it became apparent that neither Rask nor his teammates were the least bit rattled as they erased a two-goal deficit in the second period, and then after falling behind 3-2 later in the middle frame — in a situation where they easily could've unraveled — the Bruins fought back once more to tie and then take the lead en route to a 5-3 win.
Now as the series heads back to Boston for Games 3 and 4 at the TD Garden on Monday and Wednesday, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and his teammates appear to be the ones who are rattled.
The Bruins, behind two goals apiece from captain Zdeno Chara and Michael Ryder, an empty-netter from Mark Recchi (his second goal of the series) and another brilliant performance from Rask (26 saves), did something no other team had done in this season: erase a Buffalo third period lead. The Sabres were 31-0-0 when leading after two periods of play and the Bruins have now taken that claim away. For all intents and purposes, the Black and Gold have stolen the momentum from the Northeast Division champions.
"Everybody really played hard," Chara said in an on-ice NBC interview following the game. "We were behind [after] both of the first two periods, we eventually found a way to tie the game and get ahead. We worked extremely hard and Tuukka had a strong game, so that was huge for us."
This has been a season of question marks and frustration for a Bruins club that entered the season with Stanley Cup aspirations and picked by many to fulfill them. But injuries and plenty of players underachieving almost prevented Boston from even making the playoffs.
After watching their star center Marc Savard get carried off on a stretcher March 7 from a blindside hit courtesy of Penguins forward Matt Cooke and then being satisfied with a simple beatdown of Cooke by Shawn Thornton in a 3-0 stinker to Pittsburgh March 18, this team has rallied around each other answering the critics that questioned their work ethic and heart.
Ironically, Ryder was one of those underachievers.
Just prior to finishing the season with two lamplighters in a 4-3 shootout win over Washington last Sunday, the two-time 30-goal scorer and longtime pupil of head coach Claude Julien was in the doghouse with the coach he has played for in juniors, the AHL and NHL.
But Ryder has gotten back to the game that Julien has always said leads to goals for him. He has been strong along the boards in his last three games and he is letting the shot that Julien termed “the best shot on the team” go whenever he has the chance. He has six shots in the first two games of this series and two have beat Miller. More importantly, he is skating and going to the net and that was a key to both his goals in Game 2.
Meanwhile, "The Big Z" has been carrying this team on his back down the stretch run and in the first two games of this series despite playing with a broken left pinkie finger and nose. His grit and determination are spreading, but another key element of his game has been his willingness to jump into the play in the offensive zone. When he can, Chara is pinching and it paid off again today on his first goal.
"Every time you have a chance to join the rush and support the attack, you have to do that," Chara said. "You obviously have to pick your spots and make the right choices and decisions, but at that time we were behind so we joined the rush."
His game-winner was a result of something the whole team is succeeding at and that is shooting shots from the blue line and creating traffic in front. The Bruins have now poured on 70 shots in two games.
Let’s not forget the play of Blake Wheeler and Vladimir Sobotka as well. Both had assists and both were a thorn in Miller’s side all day with Sobotka crashing the net numerous times.
So now the series heads back to Boston tied and Miller (26 saves), not Rask, was the rattled one in Game 2.
The Bruins, with pressure in the crease and shots flying in from all over proved the Olympic hero to be mortal. The Sabres also lost Thomas Vanek to an apparent knee injury and that would be a blow to their offense as Vanek has been a Bruins killer and already has a goal and an assist in the series. Time for TD Garden to vibrate on Patriots Day.