BUFFALO, N.Y. – Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara thinks his surging team can get better. If Tim Thomas keeps playing this well, there might be no limit to how good they can be.
Thomas made 33 saves in his seventh straight win, and Brad Marchand and Michael Ryder had a goal and assist each to lift the Bruins to a 5-2 victory over the Ryan Miller-less Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.
Thomas (7-0), who entered with a 0.50 goals-against average after consecutive shutouts, had his shutout streak of 167 minutes, 12 seconds snapped when Drew Stafford’s second-period goal made it 4-1.
“Right now we’re feeling pretty good, but at the same time we can get better,” Chara said. “There’s always room to improve. But overall, yeah, it’s nice to be winning.”
After losing 5-2 to Phoenix in the season opener, Boston is 6-1 behind the standout play of Thomas, who allowed more than one goal for the first time this season. Thomas tied his career high for longest winning streak.
Thomas said he is playing his best since making his NHL debut in October 2002, but it is not the fastest start of his career. He registered five shutouts in the first 10 games for Jokerit of the Finnish league during the lockout season of 2004-05.
“It was kind of something similar to this start,” Thomas said. “I was able to ride that the whole year, so I hope the same thing happens.”
Thomas’ best save came as the Sabres’ 37-second, two-man advantage was winding down with 13 minutes to go. He dived and reached behind with the paddle of his stick to deny Derek Roy’s stuff-in chance at the right post.
Patrice Bergeron, Blake Wheeler and Milan Lucic also scored for Boston (7-2), which set a franchise record by winning its fifth consecutive road game to open a season.
“Everybody’s playing pretty good,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “We don’t have any passengers, everybody’s working hard, and everybody’s committed.”
The same can’t be said for the sliding Sabres (3-8-2), who lost their fourth straight while playing with Miller out of uniform for the first time this season. Miller is nursing an undisclosed lower-body injury that he tweaked late in Friday’s overtime loss to the Atlanta Thrashers.
Andrej Sekera also scored for Buffalo, which came in with the second-fewest points (8) in the NHL after winning the Northeast Division last season.
“We’re looking at trying to get a win, and guys are uptight before we even start the game,” said Sabres captain Craig Rivet, who returned to the lineup after a two-game benching. “The breakdowns are coming from guys squeezing their sticks like it’s a grenade.”
Rookie Jhonas Enroth, recalled from Portland of the AHL, got the surprise start for Buffalo over regular backup Patrick Lalime, but was pulled after surrendering three goals on 12 shots in one period.
Lalime then gave up two goals on 13 shots. The 22-year-old Enroth made just his second career NHL start, both against the Bruins.
“Guys were racing to get off the ice instead of racing to get on,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
Buffalo welcomed back right wing Jason Pominville, who missed nine games because of a concussion sustained when he was hit into the boards from behind by Chicago defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Boston scored three times in the first period, including short-handed goals by Marchand and Bergeron. Marchand scored on a breakaway after taking Tim Connolly’s errant pass in the Boston zone. Bergeron wristed in his second of the season from the top of the right circle.
Marchand celebrated his first NHL goal, but Connolly then heard boos from the unhappy home crowd whenever he touched the puck in the third period.
Wheeler pushed the Bruins’ lead to 3-0 with his first of the season with 3:06 left in the first period. Standing just outside the corner of the crease, Wheeler lifted in Ryder’s pass from behind the net after outmuscling Stafford.
Ryder made it 4-0 at 2:11 of the second, wristing a shot past from the lower portion of the right circle past Lalime.
Stafford finally solved Thomas with a power-play goal with 3:21 left in the second period, banging home a loose puck.
Sekera cut the deficit to 4-2 with 4:34 remaining in the game.
Lucic capped the scoring with an empty-net goal with 2:07 left.
Notes: Buffalo is 0-5-1 at home. … Sabres RW Mike Grier played in his 1,000th NHL game. … Ruff, who coached in his 997th NHL game, will be inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday. … It was the first meeting between these teams since Boston ousted Buffalo in six games in the first round of last season’s playoffs. … Thomas came in having lost five straight starts against Buffalo. … Stafford’s goal snapped Boston’s overall shutout string at 195 minutes, 51 seconds.