BUFFALO, N.Y. – For once, Michael Ryder and the Boston Bruins avoided questions about their sputtering offence.
In cracking the Buffalo Sabres’ third-period lockdown, Ryder and Zdeno Chara scored two minutes apart and led the Bruins to a 5-3 comeback victory on Saturday that tied the Eastern Conference quarter-final series at 1.
Ryder and Chara each scored two goals in a big turnaround for the Bruins, who finished 29th in the NHL in scoring during the regular season. This victory came on the heels of Boston’s 39-shot output in a 2-1 loss to the Sabres on Thursday.
“It’s definitely a big boost,” Ryder said. “We’ve had struggles all year scoring goals. It’s a good time for us to start finding the back of the net.”
And they did it against star goalie Ryan Miller and against a team that had gone 31-0 when entering the third period with a lead this season.
“It’s definitely good to get two goals in the third period and bounce back from a deficit,” said Tuukka Rask, who stopped 26 shots. “I think everybody realized now that it’s playoffs and we can’t let down. Today we did a great job of that.”
The series now shifts to Boston for Game 3 on Monday.
Buffalo might have to bounce back without leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who didn’t return after hurting his lower left leg in the first period.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff wouldn’t reveal the severity of the injury or whether Vanek would play Monday. Ruff would only say that he expects Vanek to travel to Boston with the team.
With or without Vanek, the Sabres are going to have to do a better job defensively, considering how thoroughly they unravelled by allowing five goals ? including Mark Recchi’s empty-netter ? after building a 2-0 first-period lead.
“It’s disappointing we went into the third with a lead and didn’t make it hold up,” said Miller, who made 26 stops. “Everything is not going to go our way.”
Tyler Myers, Matt Ellis and Jason Pominville scored for the Sabres.
The Bruins ended a seven-game playoff losing streak at Buffalo. The drought spanned four series, dating to a 5-4 overtime win in the first round in 1992.
The game turned at the start of the third period with Boston trailing 3-2, after Pominville restored Buffalo’s lead with 3:19 left in the second period.
Ryder tied it 5:23 into the third by capping a 4-on-2 rush, which came on the transition after Sabres centre Tim Connolly failed to handle a pass in the Boston zone.
Two minutes later, Chara then pounced on Connolly’s giveaway along the boards in the Sabres end. Without hesitation, Chara snapped in a shot from the left point that beat Miller, who was screened by David Krejci.
“It was a great job,” Chara said, of Krejci’s screen. “It wasn’t a hard shot, but it was a shot that he couldn’t see. He can’t see it, he can’t stop it.”
Getting more traffic in front of Miller was the Bruins’ intention after the goalie saw most of the shots he stopped Thursday.
Offensively, the Sabres looked flat and sloppy in a third period in which they managed just six shots ? and didn’t get their first on Rask until 10:15 was gone.
Not having Vanek was a factor. He was hurt after he was hooked from behind by Johnny Boychuk during a partial breakaway with under seven minutes left in the first. After getting off a backhand shot, Vanek and Boychuk both fell and slid into the end boards.
Vanek had difficulty putting weight on his left foot as he attempted to get up. He hobbled to the Sabres bench and fell to his knees as he tried to get through the gate.
Ruff wasn’t happy with how Boychuk slashed Vanek across the knee twice, but didn’t know if that caused the injury. Boychuk was penalized for hooking.
Miller took the loss in stride.
“It’s tough. But no one said you’re going to walk through the playoffs,” Miller said. “The good part is they don’t tell you what order you have to win. You just have to win four.”
The five goals were the most the Bruins had scored since a 5-0 win over Calgary on March 27, and marked only the 18th time Boston netted at least four goal in regulation this season.
NOTES: Bruins assistant coach Craig Ramsay was back behind the bench after missing Game 1 and spending Thursday night in a Buffalo hospital because of the flu. … The Sabres are 32-7-4 this season when scoring the first goal, including both games of this series. … Buffalo is already missing two top forwards. Jochen Hecht will be out at least two weeks (pinkie surgery), and Drew Stafford (concussion) is day to day.