BOSTON — This one has the makings of a goaltending classic.
The Bruins host the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday at the Garden, which means a potential matchup of the last two Vezina winners, who also happen to be the two hottest netminders in the league right now.
Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, who won last year’s Vezina, is expected to start for Buffalo after posting back-to-back shutouts in his last two games.
The Bruins couldn’t pinpoint exactly what makes Miller (9-7-2, 2.26 GAA, .922 save percentage) so effective, they just know it’s tough to get anything by him.
“I don’t know, he just stops the puck a lot,” said Bruins forward Blake Wheeler. “I’m not sure. He’s a tough goalie to score on. If you’re just going to be shooting from the perimeter all night and giving him open looks at the puck, you’re not going to score. You’ve got to try to disrupt him. You’ve got to get the puck into his crease and make him feel uncomfortable in there.”
The Bruins have a guy between the pipes who is pretty effective himself, as Tim Thomas enters the game with a 13-2-2 record, 1.46 GAA, .956 save percentage and five shutouts. The Bruins held an optional morning skate on Tuesday and Thomas did not participate. With Tuukka Rask getting in extra work in the morning, indications are that Thomas will get the nod to start this one as well.
“I think Timmy’s been taking goals away from guys pretty regularly here,” said Wheeler, comparing Thomas and Miller. “They have pretty different styles. They get the job done in different ways, but at the end of the night the results are usually the same with those two guys.”
Buffalo in general has turned things around after a retched 3-9-2 start, going 8-4-1 in the last month. And Miller’s resurgent play is just part of the reason for that turnaround.
“Their goaltender has found his game and that’s really helped,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “They’re definitely playing with a lot more confidence and conviction. They’re coming hard on offense. It seems like they have four guys up the ice all the time in the offensive zone. Their D’s are not afraid to slide up there. They’re a good team. I don’t see us going into this game any other way than thinking this is going to be a tough game.”
Buffalo still has some issues, however, as the Sabres continue to deal with a number of key injuries. Mark Mancari was recalled from Portland on Tuesday as forwards Tim Connolly (groin), Rob Niedermayer (knee) and Drew Stafford (shoulder) are all out for this game. Former Bruins defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, who took a blow to the head against Columbus on Friday, will also miss the matchup against the club that drafted him in the first round in 2001.
“He still wasn’t feeling quite right,” said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff of Morrisonn. “He could play, but it was my decision not to play him.”
The Bruins have just Marco Sturm remaining on their injured list, and he faced contact in practice for the first time on Monday as he nears the end of his long road back from offseason knee surgery.
“He started taking a little bit of contact [Monday],” said Julien. “I think he’s getting better and he’s getting really close.”
Besides Thomas, Mark Recchi was the only other Bruin who did not skate Tuesday morning, but he is expected to play against Buffalo. Daniel Paille is the likely scratch again as the Bruins will use the same line combinations and defensive pairings they have had since Marc Savard returned last Thursday.
Projected Bruins lines:
Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton
Mark Recchi-Patrice Bergeron-Blake Wheeler
Tyler Seguin-Marc Savard-Michael Ryder
Brad Marchand-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara-Andrew Ference
Dennis Seidenberg-Johnny Boychuk
Mark Stuart-Adam McQuaid
Scratches: Daniel Paille
Projected Sabres lines:
Nathan Gerbe-Derek Roy-Thomas Vanek
Mark Mancari-Luke Adam-Jason Pominville
Tyler Ennis-Jochen Hecht-Patrick Kaleta
Cody McCormick-Paul Gaustad-Mike Grier
Andrej Sekera-Tyler Myers
Jordan Leopold-Steve Montador
Mike Weber Chris Butler
Scratches: Shaone Morrisonn (head), Drew Stafford (shoulder), Craig Rivet