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Sabres staring down the barrel 04.20.10 at 2:59 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — The Sabres took to the ice at Ristuccia Arena on Tuesday looking for a bit of a rebound day after taking two consecutive tough losses to the Bruins in their quarterfinal Stanley Cup playoff series. Boston leads 2 to 1 heading into Wednesday’s Game 4 and the Sabres know that they need to start finishing chances, either on the power play or in front of the net, if the can hold the Bruins off and return to Buffalo for Game 5 with the series tied.

“It is not a must win, no. It is a must play well though. Must compete hard and must play hard,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.

All registered healthy Sabres took part in Tuesday’s practice with the notable exception of Matt Ellis, who took a hit from the Bruins’ Johnny Boychuk in the second period of Game 3 that busted the forwards nose and sent him wobbling to the bench. Ruff said he gave Ellis a maintenance day on Tuesday and is pretty sure that the wing will be able to play in Game 4 but if he is not the Sabres would have to call a player up from AHL Portland.

“It is playoff hockey,” forward Matt Ellis said. “Obviously things have been pretty tight and there are things at the end of each night where you take a look at and reevaluate. We did that today and will be ready to go tomorrow.”

Part of Buffalo’s woes have been the inability to finish, the great oxymoron in this series as those issues have typically been associated with the Bruins throughout the year. Ruff was asked about how Paul Gaustad (12 goals, 10 assists through regular season, minus-two and four penalty minutes in the playoffs) has been in creating screens in front of the net, a place where Buffalo will have to look to score goals without their top threat Thomas Vanek.

“One area where we must remain strong is try to hold the front. Try to hold that area and try to get those second opportunities and that is where he has to use his big body,” Ruff said. ”To be honest, no. I think he can play bigger, he can be stronger and I think that if you asked him he would say the same thing.”

But with no goals through 12 power play chances and only six goals through three games, Ruff knows that everybody on the team will have to step up. No single player is immune from criticism as long as the Sabres trail Boston in the series.

“I think any time you are down in a series, it applies to everybody,” Ruff said. “Don’t finish the game and wish you did something.”

– Ruff said there is no update on Vanek and at this point he will probably keep mum until Vanek shows up on the ice and he is forced to answer questions on the forwards health. He was seen in a walking boot in Wilmington and said that he has not given up on playing in Game 4. Jochen Hecht, who had finger surgery late in the season, did not skate either and was seen leaving Ristuccia with a cast on his hand.

On the Bruins end of things, the team seems loose and know that they are playing within Julien’s system and that if they compete the results will take care of themselves. All normal skaters participated in the practice and forward Marc Savard was worked out by trainer John Whitesides before the team workout.

Here is the Sabres practice participation by sweater color:

White: Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Tim Connolly

Red: Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Tim Kennedy

Grey: Paul Gaustad, Michael Grier, Raffi Torres

Yellow: Patrick Kaleta, Adam Mair, Chris Butler

Defensemen: Steve Montador, Toni Lydman, Tyler Myers, Henrik Tallinder, Andrej Sekera, Craig Rivet

Goaltenders: Patrick Lalime, Ryan Miller

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Bergeron’s goal gives Boston Game 3 04.19.10 at 9:37 pm ET
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Summary — The Bruins and Sabres shifted back to Boston on Monday for Game 3 in their quarterfinal Stanley Cup Playoff series, and Boston went up a game by beating the Sabres 2-1 in front of a sold-out crowd at TD Garden.

Patrice Bergeron got the game-winner for Boston at 12:57 of the third period to put the Bruins on top for good. Tuukka Rask won his second career playoff game 32 saves while Ryan Miller took the loss with 27 stops.

For the third straight game, the Sabres were the first to break the seal with a goal in the first 10 minutes of the first period. This time, forward Michael Grier was the perpetrator after Tim Kennedy pushed the puck forward to him through the neutral zone on the right wing. Grier took a took a snap shot from the top of the circle that Rask could not glove as it passed him far side for the 1-0 lead at 6:57.

Boston came back as the teams’ skated a 4-on-4 after Andrew Ference and Paul Gaustad had gone to their respective penalty boxes at 13:18 with matching roughing calls after a scrum in front of Rask’s net. Matt Hunwick hit center Vladimir Sobotka rushing down the right wing. Sobotka waited long enough to catch Dennis Wideman trailing the play enter the slot and hit him with a pass that the defenseman could one-time on the net to beat Miller stick side at 15:17 to tie the game heading into the second period.

The second period was a see-saw affair that featured 10 penalty minutes (four for Sabres, six for Bruins) and one giant hit by Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk on Matt Ellis at the blue line that separated the Buffalo forward from the puck. Neither team could take advantage of the power play time and the game headed to the third still tied at one.

Three Stars

Patrice Bergeron — The Bruins center scored his first goal of the playoffs and recorded his second point of the playoffs with the game-winner in the third.

Tuukka Rask — Out-dueled Ryan Miller for the second straight game in stopping 32 shots for his second career playoff win.

Dennis Wideman — Had a hand in two Bruins goals as he tied the game in the first and had the secondary assist on Bergeron’s game-winner.

Turning Point – After about a period and a half of spinning wheels on each side, Boston took the lead in the third period. That’s when Mark Recchi retrieved a loose puck behind the goal line in the corner and snapped it back in front to the bottom of the circle where Bergeron was waiting with a one-timer that Miller had no chance at to send the Bruins towards the victory. On the Sabres next time down the ice, there was a scrum in front of Rask that led to a variety of fisticuffs with Sobotka and Andrej Sekera dropping the gloves. Andrew Ference and Raffi Torres each took 10-minute misconduct penalties while Dennis Wideman and Craig Rivet had matching roughing calls.

Key Play – Rask got pressure in the third and handled a loose puck in his leg pads by just laying on it in the series after the big penalty scrum to foil one of the last chances that the Sabres would get in the game. Rask also made a big save after Miller went to the bench for the extra attacker when Buffalo took a timeout with 44.7 seconds left.

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No intent to injure Vanek but significant benefit for B’s at 1:18 pm ET
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Sabres coach Lindy Ruff knows that a team’s “special players” have to be the ones that carry a team through a playoff series. Yes, the team that works harder, the scheme that is more effective, the luck or misfortune inherent in the playoffs all are factors in determining which teams take a step closer to Lord Stanley’s Cup, but sometimes it is just about which team has more talent.

“Your special players can still win the game for you,” Ruff said. “I think that if your special players have good opportunities they have to make a difference for you and that will be the difference in the series.”

Yet, Ruff and the Sabres will be missing the player that gave them a significant talent edge over the Bruins in the form of Thomas Vanek. The Austrian forward went down in Game 2 on Saturday after Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk chased him down on a partial break and slashed at his knee causing him to lose his edge and tumble into the end wall. Ruff told the media  on Sunday that he was pleasantly surprised about Vanek’s condition after initially fearing the worst but that he will still be out for Game 3 at TD Garden Monday evening.

“No step back but no progress,” Ruff said of Vanek’s status. “Same as yesterday.”

Boychuk has been getting some flack around the league for what some fans and media have called a vicious two-handed slash that was either over-aggressive or had the specific intent to injure. Boychuk was not having any of that.

“It wasn’t even that bad, I think,” Boychuk said. “He was basically almost on a breakaway and I was going to try and lift his stick on the left and I switched and hit his right leg instead of his left leg. I was trying to hit his stick to push the puck off, just so happens that I hit his leg and he fell down.”

Coach Claude Julien was also of the opinion that Boychuk’s slash was more of a “hockey move” than anything malicious.

“None of the above. I don’t think he was overaggressive. He did a hockey play. I think it’s pretty obvious, and I don’t want to dwell on this stuff, but Vanek got hurt going into the boards. It’s his left leg, not his right, so he got hurt that way,” Julien said.  ”I think it’s pretty obvious those are things that happen in the game of hockey. We all have injuries on every team, so let’s turn the page and move on, on that. I don’t think he’s overaggressive. He’s played well for us and I think that’s where we see Johnny Boychuk, a pretty good defenseman for us.”

Boychuk was adamant that there was no intent to injure.

“No, not a chance. Why would I want to harm the guy? It makes no sense,” Boychuk said.

Well, Mr. Boychuk, an injury to Vanek makes perfect sense if you have a rooting interest in the Bruins. Whatever the intent was, it is pretty obvious that Boychuk and Julien are sticking to their version of the incident. Boychuk will never admit to going after Vanek and to be fair the forward was closing in on goaltender Tuukka Rask with the puck on his stick. Boychuk was penalized for the slash and since the play was on the puck as much as the player their was no attempt to hide it away from the game action the way it sometimes happens in the NHL.

Ruff may be trying to paint a happy picture to the media with his “pleasantly surprised” comments but there have been whispers that the injury might be a high-ankle sprain, which would put him out of commission for most of the playoffs if Buffalo were to make a run at the Cup. Boston’s Milan Lucic had the same injury this year and it took him eight weeks to recover and said that he feels for Vanek if that is indeed the case.

“Ever since I got it I don’t wish that injury on anyone,” Lucic said. “It is definitely the toughest injury that I have gone through and I think everyone who has had it will tell you the same thing.”

The matchups in the series are such that players like Derek Roy, Tim Connolly for Buffalo and Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci for the Bruins effectively cancel each other out. Even the defensive pairings are similar with both teams having one of the tallest defensemen in NHL history with Zdeno Chara and rookie Tyler Myers. Vanek was the key for the Sabres though and Ruff knows it.

“I’m looking ahead. I am looking at tonight’s game. That’s my only focus. We need some guys to be better. When you say you have to work real hard, you can work as hard as you want but if the puck doesn’t go in the net, you don’t win the game,” Ruff said.

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B’s complete comeback to claim Game 2, tie series 04.17.10 at 3:58 pm ET
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Bruins Mark Recchi (left) and Zdeno Chara celebrate a second-period goal in Saturday's series-tying win. (AP)

Bruins Mark Recchi (left) and Zdeno Chara celebrate a second-period goal in Saturday's series-tying win. (AP)

Summary — Boston turned the series around on Saturday with a 5-3 comeback win over the Sabres at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The Bruins fell behind 2-0 in the first period before tying the game in the second and netting three in the third. Rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask earned his first career playoff win with 26 saves. Ryan Miller allowed four goals on 30 Boston shots to take the loss.

The Bruins scored three in the third period after entering the frame down a goal. They tied the game on Michael Ryder’s second goal of the game on an odd-man rush when Blake Wheeler sent the puck across the ice in front of the crease and Ryder was able to control of it and put it high into the net. The game-winner came courtesy of Zdeno Chara with a wrist shot from the point that got by Miller with an effective screen from center David Krejci.

Buffalo took an early lead for the second straight game when rookie defenseman Tyler Myers took a blast from the point that went off the skate of Boston forward Steve Begin at 2:55 in the first period. It was the rookie’s first career playoff goal. Buffalo would make it a two-goal advantage later in the period when Matt Ellis charged down the right wing and flipped a backhand shot on Rask that the netminder took a bad angle on and it beat him far side of the post at 12:00.

Boston bounced back in the second period.

The Bruins cut the lead in half at 2:35 when Vladimir Sobotka took a screaming slap shot from the high slot that hit Miller in the chest and bounced straight up in the air, over his shoulder. Ryder went crashing the net and stuck his stick in the crease to finish it off for his first goal of the playoffs. Boston’s second goal came courtesy of the captain, Chara. Johnny Boychuk hit a slap shot from the right point that center Patrice Bergeron deflected straight to the one-timing stick of Chara in the circle to tie the game at 9:54.

Buffalo reclaimed the lead late in the period when Milan Lucic turned the puck over by his own end wall. Tyler Ennis found the loose rubber and flipped it back in front to Jason Pominville who put it passed Rask at 16:41.

Mark Recchi scored an empty-net goal with 19.4 seconds left for the Bruins’ fifth goal to seal the game.

Sabres forward Thomas Vanek left the game in the first period with a lower body injury after a hooking call on Boychuk, whose stick hit Vanek’s knee. He did not return.

Three Stars

Zdeno Chara — The captain kept bringing his team back with two goals and physical play to hold down the Sabres.

Michael Ryder — The forward scored two goals for the second time in three games (two against Washington in the regular-season finale).

Blake Wheeler — He helped set up both of Ryder’s goals with effective passing and heads-up play.

Turning Point – The Bruins did not have a good third period after a dominating second in Game 1. It was a different story in Game 2 as Boston had a two-goal burst early in the period to take its first lead of the series. The game-tying goal came on a 4-on-2 rush when Wheeler sent the puck back across the ice in front of the crease and it went through defenseman Andrew Ference to the stick of Ryder, who flipped it high into the net as Miller was out of position on the other side of the crease.

Key Play – With Boston holding on to its one-goal lead, its goaltender came up huge down the stretch to seal the series-tying victory. Buffalo forward Michael Grier had a point-blank attempt on Rask midway through the third but could not complete the finish as Rask came out of the crease and aggressively knocked the shot to the corner to end the threat and preserve the lead.

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First period summary: Bruins vs. Sabres – Game 2 at 2:00 pm ET
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Take a bow, Tyler Myers.

The 20-year- old, 6-foot, 8-inch Buffalo defenseman is in the midst of his coming out party. As the second tallest man in the NHL (behind Zdeno Chara, of course), it is hard to miss the lanky blue liner but it Boston hockey fans had not noticed him in the six regular season games the Bruins and Sabres played, they sure will now.

Myers got the Buffalo on the board early with a bomb from the blue line that deflected off the skate of Boston forward Steve Begin just enough to redirect it through the crease and a diving Tuukka Rask. It was the rookie’s first ever postseason goal and the second time this series that the Sabres have taken a goal lead in the first five minutes of the game.

Buffalo had momentum all period as the Bruins could not keep themselves out of the penalty box. Vladimir Sobotka took the first when crashing the net at 6:56 for goaltender interference. Buffalo gave Boston the man-advantage as Derek Roy was guilty of holding the stick at 9:04 but Boston could not take the opportunity as David Krejci gave it right back with a high-sticking call at 9:25.

Defenseman Johnny Boychuk was the next to the box when he was called for hooking at 13:39 when he hacked at Thomas Vanek’s knee. Vanek lost his edge and slid into the end wall. He was hurt on the play and had trouble hobbling back to the bench and down the tunnel.

Matt Ellis made it a two-goal game for the Sabres at 12:00 when he threw a backhand at Rask the flew to the far side, off the post into the net.

That is how it stands heading into the second period, 2-0 Buffalo.

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Miller and Sabres claim Game 1 04.15.10 at 9:43 pm ET
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Summary — Playoff hockey is a different animal than its regular-season cousin. The Bruins and Sabres proved that on Thursday in Game 1 of their quarterfinal Eastern Conference matchup that was won by Buffalo 2-1 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. (Recap.)

Tuukka Rask made his first career playoff start and allowed the two goals on 32 shots but was out-dueled by veteran superstar Ryan Miller, who made 38 saves in the win.

Thomas Vanek gave Buffalo the early lead at 4:52 in the first period. He was set up by Sabres center Derek Roy, who won the puck coming out of the Buffalo defensive zone and started a break down the right wing. After making the entry, he skated to the top of the faceoff circle and laid the puck up for Vanek, who chose his spot (far side high) on Rask and buried it for the 1-0 lead.

Mark Recchi got the Bruins back into it during a second period in which his team rarely let the puck out of the Buffalo zone. In the second 20 minutes, Boston outshot the Sabres, 24-8. Recchi tied it on a power play (Toni Lydman – cross check, 8:44) when he found the puck bouncing in the slot after a booming one-timer from the point by Zdeno Chara that had been set up off the stick of Matt Hunwick. Patrice Bergeron tangled enough in front of the net to let the puck pass back through traffic on the rebound, and Recchi swept in to put it back on the top shelf at 9:30.

The tie would not last long. Boston was caught sleeping once in the second period, just long enough for Craig Rivet to beat Rask with a slap shot from the top of the right circle for the game-winner. Tim Kennedy set up Rivet with a back pass from the goal line as the Sabres captain came down the wing with a full head of steam at 14:10.

The victory gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 2 is scheduled in Buffalo for Saturday.

Three Stars

Ryan Miller — The likely 2009-10 Vezina Trophy winner and MVP candidate stood tall for Buffalo, especially in the second period, when the Bruins set a record with 24 shots, the most the Sabres have ever allowed in a period in the playoffs.

Mark Recchi – The veteran scored on the power play in the second period for his 51st career postseason goal, good for a tie for second among active NHL players.

Tim Kennedy — The Sabres forward was a pest on the ice all night and totaled a plus-two with an assist on Rivet’s second-period goal.

Turning Point – In the midst of withstanding a 24-shot period by the Bruins, Rivet was able to find enough time (which the Sabres had very little of as Boston controlled the puck all period) and space on the right wing to let loose a slap shot after a back feed by Kennedy. The goal stopped Boston’s momentum just enough to allow the Sabres to catch their breath to finish the period with the lead.

Key Play — With Boston trying to claw back in the game towards the end of the third period, two consecutive hard-luck penalties that sapped any momentum it could have gained. The first was on what looked to be a phantom tripping call on Dennis Wideman when Roy went to the ice with hardly a touch at 13:20. Right after the Bruins killed that penalty, Miroslav Satan accidentally flipped the puck over the boards into the crowd for a delay of game at 15:40 that put Boston on the kill for half of the remaining four minutes.

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Second period summary: Bruins vs. Sabres – Game 1 at 8:46 pm ET
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Maybe the Bruins power play is starting to come back to life.

They scored one in the regular season finale against Washington to break an 0 for 23 funk and then turn around to score on their first opportunity of the postseason after a Toni Lydman cross checking penalty. Mark Recchi found the back of the net off a rebound in the low slot from a Zdeno Chara slap shot from the high slot. The play was set up by a nice touch pass by defenseman Matt Hunwick on the point to give Chara the one-timer that split the Sabres forward penalty killers. Patrice Bergeron did not register and assist on the play, but he should have as his tangling play in front of Ryan Miller helped keep the puck loose from Buffalo defenseman Henrik Tallinder long enough for Recchi to find it and put it home to tie the game at 9:30.

Boston absolutely lived in the Sabres’ zone for most of the period but, outside of the power play strike, did not have much to show for it except a bunch of shots and Recchi’s goal. Then, the moment that the Bruins let their foot off the gas pedal for a minute, Buffalo struck.

It was captain Craig Rivet that did the damage with a back pass assist from Tim Kennedy. Rivet came down the right wing from the point with a head of steam and let go a slap shot at the top of the circle that whittled its way through traffic passed Rask at 14:10.

Boston had another power play opportunity late in the period when Thomas Vanek went for tripping Milan Lucic flying through the neutral zone at 16:28. The Sabres penalty kill was more effective this time around to preserve their 2-1 lead heading into the third.

Boston outshot Buffalo 24 to 8 on the period and lead the game 33 to 20.

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