BOSTON – The Boston Bruins are closing in on the playoffs, and they’ll have a better chance once they get there if Dennis Wideman is pitching in.
The much-maligned Boston defenceman, booed by his hometown crowd and scoring half as often as last season, broke a third-period tie to help the Bruins beat Buffalo 3-1 on Thursday night and jump from eighth to sixth in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“Right now, it’s about winning,” said Wideman, who has scored in consecutive games after scoring just three goals in the first 70 games. “Obviously, it was a big win for us, and it was great to come through. I think things are going better. I think it’s getting down to that time of the season where you’ve got to come through and perform.”
Boston entered the night one point ahead of the ninth-place New York Rangers in the East. With the win, the Bruins passed Philadelphia and moved into a tie for sixth with Montreal, a 5-2 loser Thursday night in Carolina; Boston has two games left, and the Canadiens have one.
The importance of the victory was obvious during the game and after, when Zdeno Chara went around bear-hugging teammates in celebration.
“We know we need some points still to get it,” said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who stopped 31 shots. “It was kind of a playoff atmosphere out there.”
Wideman scored 13 goals in each of the previous two seasons, but he’s got just six goals this year and has gone from a plus-32 to a minus-15. Fans booed him whenever he touched the puck early on, and the jeers got louder when his giveaway led to Derek Roy’s goal that gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead 11 minutes in.
But they cheered when Wideman wristed one past Patrick Lalime with 18:01 left in the game to break a 1-1 tie.
“He’s had some tough times,” coach Claude Julien said. “His teammates and the coaching staff certainly support him. There’s obviously some frustration and he has stuck with it. He was a valuable asset to our team tonight.”
Wideman said he switched sticks a week or two ago, picking up one of teammate David Krejci’s models that had a different curve.
“I brought the hands back and with the hands came the confidence,” he said.
Miroslav Satan also scored for Boston, and Mark Recchi made it 3-1 when he tipped in Chara’s slap shot with 3:25 left. The Bruins had not scored more than two goals in a game since March 27.
“They’re a desperate team,” said Lalime, who played with the flu so No. 1 goalie Ryan Miller could rest up for the playoffs. “They’re battling for every inch.”
Lalime made 31 saves for Buffalo, which clinched the Northeast Division title Tuesday night. In addition to Miller, the Sabres were without leading scorer Tim Connolly, who has a foot injury, No. 4 scorer Thomas Vanek, who has an unspecified injury, and defenceman Craig Rivet, who has the flu.
“It’s tough. You’re playing with different guys every night, guys are switching during games,” Roy said. “We’ve got to get healthy for the playoffs. We need everybody. We need this whole team.”
Buffalo led 1-0 when Satan tied it with 2:15 left in the first period, skating in on goal and stickhandled it in through traffic in front of the net before backhanding it past Lalime.
NOTES: The Bruins handed out the following awards before the game: Recchi, the Eddie Shore Award for hustle and determination; Patrice Bergeron, the Elizabeth C. Dufresne Award for outstanding performance at home games; Shawn Thornton, the John Bucyk Award for community service; and the Three Stars Award to Bergeron, Krejci and Rask. … Roy has 20 points in his last 18 games. … Vladimir Sobotka assisted on Wideman’s goal – his first point in eight games. .. Chara played with a facemask to protect his broken nose. … The Bruins have not scored a power-play goal in six games since scoring three against Calgary on March 27. … Miller and Boston’s Tim Thomas were the goalies for the U.S. Olympic team. Thomas, the backup in Vancouver, has since been relegated to backup for the Bruins.