Seeking their fifth straight win, the Bruins traveled to Buffalo for the first of three consecutive games against the Sabres.
As Buffalo remains last place in the overall standings, opportunity lies ahead for Boston to gain ground in the division against an inferior opponent.
It wasn’t the most exciting game of the Bruins' season and they certainly didn’t bring their “A” game, but they will take the two points in any fashion.
Brad Marchand and Connor Clifton scored for the B’s and Tuukka Rask recorded a 32-save shutout -- his first of the season -- en route to a 2-0 victory over the Sabres.
Here are three key takeaways from the game.
1. Marchand sets the tone
Following physical and emotional meetings with the Islanders and Capitals over their last three games, the Bruins came out rather sluggish against the Sabres — that was until Brad Marchand stepped onto the ice for his first shift of the game.
Marchand interrupted a Sam Reinhart zone-entry attempt with a solid hip-check that eventually led to some strong offensive-zone time for the Bruins’ top line.
During his second shift of the game, Marchand scored his team-leading 24th goal of the season, backhanding a loose puck top shelf in front of the Sabres net.
Time and time again, Marchand continues to lead by example and jumpstart his team when in need of energy.
Marchand’s consistency now has him in sole possession of fourth place on the NHL leading scorers list with 55 points.
2. Highlight-reel save headlines Rask shutout
Tuukka Rask continues to show no rust in his game after being out of the lineup for much of the last month-plus.
Rask earned his first shuout of the season and 51st of his career after a 32-save performance against the Sabres, with none better than a highlight-reel stop on Dylan Cozens.
With his team leading 1-0 in the first period, Rask made a jaw-dropping sequence of saves involving impressive second and third effort attempts.
After making an original save on Rasmus Dahlin from the right point, Rask recovered not once, but twice to stop Arttu Ruotsalainen on the initial rebound and then dove across the crease to completely rob Cozens of an empty-net goal. It was a rare moment as Rask is not often caught out of position, but his effort on the play was incredible and exactly what his team needed of him in that moment to keep momentum away from Buffalo.
Rask was solid all game long and gave the Sabres no life during a 6-on-3 power-play opportunity with the goalie pulled late in regulation.
3. Coyle line needs to break through
Since the trade deadline, the Bruins' even-strength offense has been among the best in the league.
Their top two lines have been consistently producing with the addition of Taylor Hall, and the fourth line seems to have found its identity with Curtis Lazar.
This leaves the very important third line that oftentimes is the difference-maker in the playoffs. As it stands now, Charlie Coyle, Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk are going to be tasked with being those difference-makers for their team.
Unfortunately, the trio doesn’t seem to be exemplifying much chemistry at the moment and time is running out on the regular season.
Their effort as a line, while it could be better, hasn’t been terrible. DeBrusk in particular seems to be playing the more gritty style that leads to his success and led the Bruins with seven shots on goal against the Sabres. Hopefully, if DeBrusk can continue this effort, the offense will follow and his confidence will take off.
Coyle and Ritchie, however, haven’t been doing much of anything to help their team. The two power forwards combined for just one shot on goal against an extremely vulnerable Sabres team — simply unacceptable.
The fact of the matter is that even complete effort isn’t enough for them as a line — they need to produce on the score sheet and at a rather consistent pace.
While they aren’t expected to outscore the top line, it is reasonable to expect them to score at a similar rate as the second line. After all, championship caliber teams possess three scoring lines.
If the Bruins wish to achieve their ultimate goal, then the Coyle line will have to be just that. Fortunately, they have two more games this week in Buffalo to regain scoring confidence as individuals, and then presumably, as a line.