The Buffalo Sabres were winning the battle of big through four periods of their first round series with the Boston Bruins.
But that’s all changed now.
Boston’s 5-3 win in Game 2 means they’ll head home for Game 3 locked 1-1 with the Sabres.
The Bruins got the big ‘V’ in large part because of ‘Big Z.’ Boston captain Zdeno Chara’s two-goal performance turned the tide in one of two blatant individual battles the series features. Both teams have bluelines anchored by absolutely hulking No. 1 defensemen and through one game and one period of Game 2, 6-foot-7, 204-pound Tyler Myers was a more positive presence than the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Chara.
Myers opened the scoring for Buffalo in Game 2 and seemed like he was always lurking in the weeds in the offensive zone. Meanwhile, Chara was getting walked by Derek Roy and, like the rest of his team, just generally not doing enough to convince anyone he was serious about stifling the Sabres.
But Chara staked his claim to the series in a major way over the final 40 minutes of Game 2, which is bad news for Buffalo. Boston is in desperate need of whatever offense it can scare up, so obviously Chara’s pair was aces for his club. More than that, Chara and Co. locked it down defensively after falling behind 2-0 in the first, the only other Buffalo goal coming on a fluky turnover by Milan Lucic.
Chara should be better than Myers; he’s 13 years older and the undisputed leader of his team, while Myers, despite his accelerated development, is still a rookie finding his way in the league. This is a showdown Boston has to have on its side of the ledger to have any chance to win this series and Chara took big strides (does he take any other kind?) toward swinging that matchup back in his team’s favor.
Goaltending is the other obviously crucial point of comparison in this duel and young Tuukka Rask one-upped Ryan Miller by not allowing his team to fall behind further when it was 2-0 Buffalo and by stoning Mike Grier on a breakaway late in the third after Miller had allowed two goals to let Boston seize the lead.
One final point of intrigue: The Sabres played most of the game without red-hot Thomas Vanek after he was spilled by Johnny Boychuk in the first period and sustained a lower-body injury when he went piling into the end boards.
Maybe the thud awakened the good side of Michael Ryder’s all-or-nothing game because he went out and got a pair of goals after that.
B’s supporters have to be hoping this is the start of a run like Ryder had last year, when he bagged five goals in four contests between Game 2 of Boston’s first round win over Montreal and Game 1 of its second round series against Carolina. Ryder does things that make coaches shudder, but he remains a born shooter and if he gets hot, it figures to factor prominently into a battle between two teams that don’t overwhelm anybody offensively.
And that divide will be more pronounced if Vanek is out for any stretch of time.
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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