Bruins grind out 2-0 win over Sabres for fifth straight victory

There was nothing pretty about the Bruins’ victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday at KeyBank Center, and there didn’t have to be. The B’s simply put in the requisite work to capture the available two points in a 2-0 victory against the last-place group that had been giving teams a lot of trouble lately.

Brad Marchand scored in the first period, Connor Clifton added one in the second and Tuukka Rask (32 saves) made all the stops he needed in order to secure his first shutout of the season.

The win — tying a season-best fifth in a row — was also productive, as it stretched to six points their lead over the fifth-place Rangers, who were smoked by the Islanders on Tuesday. The B’s still have two games in hand on the Rangers as well as the three teams ahead of them, and they’re only four points behind the East Division-leading Capitals and Islanders.

Still, the victory provided its coachable moments for Bruce Cassidy. He felt his team left some plays on the ice in the first two periods and then he watched his team take four minor penalties in the third period.

The B’s made it particularly hard on themselves at the end. Nick Ritchie took an offensive zone penalty with 3:01 left in regulation and then Jeremy Lauzon took a boarding penalty 27 seconds after that. But the B’s, facing a 6-on-3 with Buffalo goalie Dustin Tokarski pulled for an extra skater, killed it off with ease, and after the Sabres were called for too many men, they could finally rest easy.

“I didn’t like our third period at all. I thought we lost our discipline. We gave up a lot of chances and relied on our goaltender,” said Cassidy. “I didn’t think we played well at all and I didn’t think they were great early on, either. I just thought it was two teams that had played a lot of hockey lately and the execution was off. We got some huge saves from Tuukka, obviously.”

In the start of a three-game series in which only six points would be considered a true success, the B’s top line led the way in the first period.

After a dominant shift on which Marchand just missed tucking a loose puck around Tokarski, Marchand and the top trio finally cashed in at 8:06. David Pastrnak could not handle a Mike Reilly centering pass, but Marchand was there to gobble up the loose puck and lift a backhander past Tokarski for his 24th goal of the season and fifth point in two games.

But the B’s were far from perfect in the first. The third pair of Lauzon and Jakub Zboril had a couple of nearly costly turnovers. And when Jake DeBrusk went to the box for an offensive hooking penalty, Rask made two terrific saves to preserve the lead. On a rebound off a long-distance shot, Rask first stoned Arttu Ruotsalainen at the left side of the net. But that stop was nothing compared to the one that came seconds later.

The puck came out to Dylan Cozens on the right side and it appeared he had a wide-open net at which to shoot from about seven feet out, but Rask dove to his left and somehow got his glove on Cozens’ shot. It will be on most end-of-the-year highlight reels.

“It’s just half skill, half luck, I guess,” said Rask. “It’s just desperation at that point when you can’t push over to that side so you throw anything you can at the puck and hope it hits you. Luckily today it did.”

At 3:03 of the second period, the B’s rewarded Rask for his efforts by extending the lead. With the fourth line doing it’s usual crash-and-bang act, Clifton blasted a shot that broke through Tokarski’s pads and trickled into the crease behind him. Before Sean Kuraly could knock the loose puck home, Tokarski accidentally did so himself with his own skate. While Kuraly didn’t get the goal, he lifted defenseman Mattias Samuelsson’s stick so that the puck could slide over the goal line.

That stood up as Clifton’s first goal of the year.

“It felt good,” said Clifton, who later survived a scary face-first crash into the boards. “It’s nice to contribute, but it was a great play by (Kuraly, Curtis Lazar and Chris Wagner). They were working in the O-zone all night. I had a fortunate bounce there, great screen in front by Wags and it trickled in, so that one felt good.”

The B’s then survived the third, and had they been playing a better team, they might not have. But with two more games against the Sabres on Thursday and Friday, they had no reason to go into their practice day on Wednesday feeling overconfident.

“We have to understand how we want to play and play to our standard. I don’t think we were there tonight,” said Cassidy. “There are games you play well and don’t get any points and games you don’t, like tonight, and get two points. We’ve got to raise our standard internally.”

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