By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The hockey world is in its usual frenzy as the trading deadline approaches.
In the meantime, this group of Buffalo Sabres – which might look slightly different when the clock strikes 3 p.m. Monday – had some work to do on late Sunday afternoon and early Sunday evening.
The Sabres knocked off the Bruins, 4-1, for their third win over Boston in four tries this season. As a reminder, Boston came into the game with a 37-14-8 record for 82 points, while Buffalo was at 18-33-11.
“We took it to them right from the start,” defenseman Marco Scandella said. “We played our game. That’s a recipe for success.”
The joys of being a “spoiler” are limited, but sometimes it’s all you have.
GOOD WIN OVER A GOOD TEAM
Whenever the Sabres have defeated a good opponent this season, particularly at home, it can feel like the proverbial hockey bounces went their way at an opportune time. They did here. But give Buffalo some credit. The team played well for almost all 60 minutes. The Sabres cashed in when it had good opportunities, and the Bruins didn’t.
“Everybody did their part,” coach Phil Housley said. “They checked well. They competed. From top to bottom it was a solid effort.
Take the first period, when the play was generally even and perhaps even titled toward the Bruins for the first 10 minutes. Benoit Pouliot got a rebound around the net and buried it past goalie Anton Khudobin. If that was his last goal in a Buffalo uniform, at least it will be a good memory for all concerned. Kyle Okposo added a power-play score on a great shot from the right side thanks in part to a big screen by Sam Reinhart.
“I don’t know if I’ve scored a goal from there,” Okposo said. “But I want to keep attacking, keep shooting.”
In the second period, Charlie McAvoy got Boston within one, but Buffalo responded less than five minutes later as Evan Rodrigues cashed in on some slightly sloppy puckhandling by Boston.
Late in the second period came the game’s turning point, when the Bruins kept the puck in the Buffalo zone for more than three minutes, but still couldn’t score. Who ever heard of a four-minute shift?
“I wish they would have iced the puck more,” Housley said. “They dug down, and found a way to battle.”
After Scandella scored a goal that was softer than summer ice cream through the legs of Khudobin, the teams raced through the rest of the third period just to make it official. Chad Johnson had another strong game in goal for Buffalo with 34 saves, although he was quick to deflect the praise to his teammates.
“The team in front of me has so much influence on my game,” Johnson said. “I’ve felt good all year long.”
THE DAY AFTER
And now things get interesting.
The Sabres were given Monday off, so the players will go home and unsuccessfully try to relax a little. A relative handful of NHL players will actually have to change their addresses by Monday night, but the possibility lurks for almost all of them.
Some players will be energized if they do end up going to a Stanley Cup contender from a team destined to be done with the season in mid-April. Some don’t want to go anywhere.
“I think for some people it depends on where you’re at,” Johnson said. “Everyone has a different situation. You have to move past it.”
It would be stunning if Evander Kane – scratched again on Sunday – didn’t depart by the deadline, but you never know who – if anyone – might join them in heading for the airport.
“It’s an exciting day for the league, but it can be tough to see friends go,” Okposo added.
So Monday is a day where the players became fans. They’ll watch and wait, except they have a lot more than an emotional attachment at stake.
“I’m a hockey nerd – I’ll be looking at stuff most of the day,” Okposo said.