The Bruins played perhaps their best 20 minutes of hockey all season when they absolutely took it to the Sabres in the second period of their 2-1 loss in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Thursday night.
But there was just one problem.
Despite tying the game, thanks to outshooting Buffalo 24-8 in the frame and controlling the tempo from start to finish, they still trailed 2-1 because of an all too familiar defensive breakdown that led to Craig Rivet's game-winning goal.
The Bruins proved on Thursday night that they can hang with the third-seeded Sabres — and, at times, outplay them — but thanks to a splendid performance by Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller (38 saves) and some crucial mental errors, they find themselves in a 1-0 series hole.
But before we get down on the Bruins too much, let's consider the positives from that second period. In that middle frame (and really for much of the game), the Bruins crashed the crease and the net, creating traffic in front of Miller. They also shot the puck whenever they had what appeared to be a clear path to the net and didn't get too fancy on the power play, as has been their tendency throughout this season. Their lone goal came from Mark Recchi putting home a rebound on the power play, and that was a result of those two elements of their game being nicely executed.
The Bruins also played a more physical game in the second period, hitting everything in sight and standing up the Buffalo forwards at the blue line instead of hanging back and allowing them into the zone for shots and other chances. The Boston defense also moved in unison and communicated well, things they failed to do on both Thomas Vanek's first-period goal and Rivet's second-period blast from the point. The two Sabres goals were caused by a sloppy line change and a lack of knowing where your teammate is on the ice.
There is no doubting that the Bruins were on the raw end of some questionable calls by referees Dan O'Halloran and Brian Pochmara, playing shorthanded three times in the final 6:40 of regulation. But that's not the reason the B's lost.
As has happened many times this season, the Bruins failed to play 60 minutes of full-on, intense hockey and were baffled by a world-class goalie. To bounce back in Game 2, they will need to replicate that second period for 60 minutes (or more, should they go to overtime). They proved they can play their game — they just need to do it consistently. It's now or never.