You never want to see anyone injured.
But in their 4-1 loss at Buffalo in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, you’ve would’ve liked to have seen at least one Bruins player put himself in a position where some sort of painful bruise, break or gash could’ve resulted.
Instead it was the Sabres who paid the price for almost all of the 60 minutes, while the Bruins treated the potential elimination game like it was a mid-January matinee. And now the series shifts back to Boston for a Game 6 Monday night.
The Sabres were credited with 35 hits on the night. More impressive was their 26 blocked shots. One block in particular really personified the Sabres’ desperation, as Mike Grier went all out to stop a Dennis Wideman slap shot near the midway point of the third period. That his team was already up 3-0 with about 11 minutes to play didn’t stop Grier. He took the puck off the side of the head, was bleeding over his left eye and left the ice with the trainer.
Grier returned later in the period, with his jersey soiled with his own blood and the Sabres still comfortably ahead. Unless someone was opened up during the end-of-game scrum that ensued after Zdeno Chara took exception to a slash to the back of his leg, no Bruins player shed any blood in Game 5, let alone was at risk to suffer such a fate.
After thoroughly outplaying the Bruins through the first 40 minutes, both on the scoreboard and the hustle chart, the Sabres didn’t let up. Grier’s block was only one example of Buffalo’s undying desperation. Later in the third period, Derek Roy toppled Vladimir Sobotka in pursuit of a dump-in in a play reminiscent of Mark Recchi’s gritty play to set-up Patrice Bergeron’s game-winning goal in Game 3.
Then there was Tyler Ennis’ dive to seal the win with an empty-net goal. After Jason Pominville banked a pass off the half-wall in his own end, Ennis made sure Dennis Wideman wouldn’t be the first one on the puck with a headlong leap that poked the puck into the yawning goal.
No matter the score, the Sabres were willing to leave it all on the line tonight. Despite all their talk about knowing they couldn’t let up and take their chances with a Game 6, and possibly a Game 7, the Bruins didn’t excrete enough sweat and tears to put away a team that won the division title and wasn’t ready to see the curtain fall.
It’s been a problem the Bruins have had really dating back to last spring against Carolina. When their backs aren’t against the wall and things seem easy, they treat them as such. The Bruins teams of this and last year have been at their best when showing they’re one of the hardest working teams in hockey and grinding out victories with a style that’s reminiscent of the “Big, Bad” era. When they suddenly decide to channel some form of a finesse Detroit team, but without half as much skill as the perennial powerhouse Wings, things turn terribly wrong.
Luckily, the Bruins now have two days before Game 6 to regroup and summon their inner Cam Neely, their inner Terry O’Reilly, their inner Eddie Shore. There’s only one way the Bruins as a franchise, and in particular this sixth-seeded club, puts a team away – with sheer guts, grit and determination. The Bruins obviously left those ingredients home before heading to Buffalo.
If they find them when they return, they should be spared a return trip to Western New York. However, the Sabres fashion themselves the Bruins’ equal in those intangible departments with a tad more skill, and suddenly they have a little thing called momentum at their backs.
You better believe there’ll be two teams willing to hurt to win Monday night. A little more pain endured by the Bruins could kill the Sabres without the agony of making the trek to a Game 7.