Ryan Miller made 38 saves to lead the Buffalo Sabres to a playoff-opening 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.
Captain Craig Rivet scored the go-ahead goal with slap shot from the right circle with 6 minutes left in the second period, and Thomas Vanek also scored in Buffalo's first playoff game in three years. Miller stopped 23 shots in the second period alone, in building on a stellar season in which he won a franchise-best 41 games and backstopped the United States to a silver medal at the Vancouver Games.
Mark Recchi scored for the Bruins, who finished the regular season on a 8-3-1 roll to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference.
Game 2 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference quarterfinal is Saturday in Buffalo.
It was a game of shifting momentum, with the Sabres controlling the tempo and buzzing the net through most of the first period. Buffalo was rewarded by opening the scoring 4:52 in when Vanek snapped in Derek Roy's drop pass on a 2-on-1 rush.
The Bruins responded with a thoroughly dominating second period, in which they outshot Buffalo 20-6 through the first 14 minutes and 24-8 overall. The 24 shots allowed by the Sabres matched a franchise playoff record, dating to a 3-2 win at Chicago in April 1980.
Trouble for Boston was, it had difficulty beating Miller, and found itself trailing 2-1.
After Recchi, with his 51st career playoff goal, converted a rebound in front to tie it at the 9:30 mark, the Sabres regained the lead less than 5 minutes later, when Rivet blasted a shot over Tuukka Rask's shoulder. Rask never saw the shot as he was screened by Sabres grinder Patrick Kaleta.
Miller constantly foiled the Bruins with several big saves.
Patrice Bergeron was robbed after attempting to snap in a rebound from the slot. Miller also held his ground to foil Marco Sturm's hot shot from the left circle.
The Sabres regained their composure in the third period by allowing only six shots. Miller was tested once, stopping David Krejci's initial shot off a partial breakaway, and then preventing the center from shoving in the rebound.
The Bruins failed to build much momentum even after Rask was pulled in the final minute, with
It was a game that certainly lived up to its billing in featuring two goalies that finished the regular season first and second in both goals-against and save percentage.
Rask kept the game close. He got across the crease to stop rookie Tyler Ennis set up alone at the right post in the first period. Rask was even better with under 5 minutes left in the game when he stopped Roy's initial shot from the high slot and then got back into position to turn aside Jason Pominville's blast from the left circle.
The game turned chippy 15 minutes in after Bruins captain Zdeno Chara cross-checked Kaleta from behind and into the board behind the Boston net. That started a series of scuffles involving all 10 skaters, with several punches being thrown.
Chara was issued a double-minor penalty for boarding and roughing, but inexplicably left the penalty box after serving only 2 minutes. Officials didn't notice until there was a minute left, when Chara was sent back to the box.
NOTES: Sabres C Jochen Hecht is out indefinitely after having a second operation in a week on his left pinkie. ... Bruins D Andrew Ference returned after missing the final nine games of the regular season with a hernia. ... Bruins assistant coach Craig Ramsay was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with the flu prior to the game. Ramsay had been feeling ill, and walked under his own power to the ambulance. ... Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has 53 career victories. He's 14th on the NHL list, one ahead of Sid Abel and Bryan Murray.
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