The Bruins defenseman set the tone with a thunderous hit on Vanek midway through the third period of a 1-1 game, then came back just moments later to blast home the game-winner as Boston beat Buffalo 3-1 Thursday night at the Garden for its first back-to-back victories in nearly two months.
"That's a big momentum shift," Bruins center Gregory Campbell said of Boychuk's hit. "That's the game he plays, and that's a star player he hit. I don't think he came back from that hit. Johnny's timing is great and he throws a lot of those hits. When you see guys getting physically involved, that's one of our strengths and that carries throughout the team."
Boychuk caught Vanek just inside the Buffalo blue line as the Sabres' standout forward tried to carry the puck out of the zone. Boychuk leveled him with a straight-on hit at 9:37 of the third, and Vanek played just one more shift the rest of the night.
"I saw a guy coming back so I could pinch down and I could see [Vanek] wasn't really paying attention too much," Boychuk said. "I just wanted to make sure it was a clean hit. The fans gave us a little boost and we took it from there."
The hit gave the rest of the Bruins a boost as well.
"He always plays physical so we're used to it, but any time you see a hit like that you get a little bit of a lift on the bench," bruins forward Shawn Thornton said. "I liked the way we played for the whole third period as it was, but obviously you get a little bit of energy after that [hit]."
While the rest of the team was energized by Boychuk's hit, Boychuk himself converted that momentum into the go-ahead goal at 12:56 of the third. After Jordan Caron's attempt to center the puck to Brad Marchand from the right wing was blocked, Boychuk pinched in from the right point and pounced on the loose puck, blasting home a rocket from the faceoff circle.
"It was just like a scramble play and I saw the puck coming through and I just decided I'll go down and try to rip it home," Boychuk said.
Boychuk succeeded, with the play resulting in his fourth goal of the season. But while the hit and the goal left the biggest impressions, Bruins coach Claude Julien was more satisfied by Boychuk's continued solid all-around play while logging 21:53 of ice time on the night.
"He's been steady," Julien said. “We've said that all year long. [He's] a steady defenseman, a hard-hitting guy. He has a great shot. And I think he was a little disappointed on that first goal against that he got his shot blocked and gave the Sabres an opportunity to take the lead, so he redeemed himself extremely well with his play the rest of the game. Good hits, great shot, good heads-up plays and he was a pretty solid defenseman for us tonight."