BOSTON - Drew Stafford grabbed Ryan Miller by the shoulders to offer a sincere apology, while an angry Lindy Ruff sounded like he wanted to throttle the officials.
But the Buffalo Sabres should save whatever energy they have from a double-overtime loss to the Bruins that puts them in a deep hole few NHL teams escape.
Buffalo let a two-goal third-period lead get away, missed on an overtime power-play and then lost 3-2 on a goal by ex-Sabre Miroslav Satan after Stafford was caught out as the extra man. They head home for Game 5 on Friday down 3-1.
“Ultimately, when there’s too many men, it’s the coach’s fault,” Ruff said, before zeroing in on referees Kevin Pollock and Kelly Sutherland, without directly naming them.
Ruff seemed to have a point that Cody McCormick was steered into Tuukka Rask by Boston defenceman Johnny Boychuk, resulting in a goalie interference minor.
“Their own guy wiped the goalie out,” Ruff argued.
David Krejci scored to ignite the Boston comeback, with Buffalo’s momentum further stalled by a Patrick Kaleta’s boarding call on Milan Lucic, which Ruff also thought was bogus.
“That’s a pretty big swing of events for us,” said Ruff, who then started barking at questions regarding the Sabres blowing a third-period lead for the second time in three games after they were on a 31-0 run. He cut short his post-game comments with a terse “case closed”.
Stafford, who battled a concussion to return to this series, faced the music after the botched line change that many players might have messed up late in a long game.
“There’s not much else to say except we have to get ready to play the next one,” Stafford said. “We still believe we have a chance to do something special.”
Buffalo has struck first in all four games, executing perfect goals Wednesday by Tim Kennedy and Steve Montador.
McCormick, called up from the farm for just such an assignment, opened room for Kennedy.
But if the Sabres can’t tighten up against low-scoring Boston with a Vezina-calibre goalie such as Miller, they won’t be alive much longer.
“For whatever reason, we can’t protect a lead,” said Miller, who out-performed Rask in overtime with 14 saves and 36 overall. “Geez, it would almost be better if we were scored on first.”
This was the 10th game between the teams this season decided by two goals or less. Satan’s goal at 7:41 came with just nine seconds remaining in the bench minor.
Rask stopped 35 shots and with an assist on the winner, became the first goalie in eight years to get a helper on a playoff OT goal. Satan’s goal was Boston’s first overtime win over Buffalo since Adam Oates beat Tom Draper in 1992.
At the start, perhaps the Bruins were feeling smug about the way they’d won Games 2 and 3, with physical play that put Thomas Vanek and Matt Ellis on the shelf. The Krejci goal broke an an 0-for-15 power-play slump.
Coming 4:33 after Krejci’s goal, the Sabres let the Bruins have free movement behind the net, with another ex-Sabre Daniel Paille working it around to Patrice Bergeron.
Wednesday began with good news for the Sabres when Vanek skated in the morning, a day after Ruff threw doubt on his leading scorer getting back in the series. He was limping on his left ankle when the media caught up, but said he felt fine during the workout itself.
“I’m just happy to be out there and we’ll go from there,” Vanek said. “I’ll take another step forward tomorrow and hopefully be back Friday.”
With Ellis out indefinitely with a possible concussion, the Sabres added 6-foot-3 winger McCormick, who showed no fear battling Boychuk and big Bs captain Zdeno Chara.
“Without Vanek and Jochen Hecht, without bigger bodies some of the (physical) battles have been going the other way,” Ruff noted before the game.
Boychuk and McCormick were ironically ex-teammates in Colorado’s system.