BUFFALO, N.Y. - The Buffalo Sabres weren’t ready to call it a season.
Buffalo built a three-goal lead on tallies by Adam Mair, Jason Pominville, and Mike Grier in the first 30 minutes and rebounded from a devastating loss, beating the Boston Bruins 4-1 on Friday night to force a sixth game in the Eastern Conference first-round series.
“After taking heat, it feels good,” said Pominville, who responded to criticism from coach Lindy Ruff with a two-point game, equaling his output in the previous four games. “The heat, I don’t know if that’s the reason or what. We put pressure on ourselves to do well.”
Boston goalie Tuukka Rask had outplayed Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, but only barely, as the Bruins had won three straight tight games. The Sabres broke through early in this one, with Mair scoring on Buffalo’s first shot.
“A tough start again. It hit my skate and went in,” Rask said. “I should have been ready for that. Sometimes things don’t go the way you planned. We’ve got to figure out what went wrong and be ready for the next one. There was no emotion flowing out there. It’s disappointing when we’re not ready.”
Johnny Boychuk scored the lone Boston goal late in the third on a power play, but rookie Tyler Ennis added an empty-net goal for the Sabres with 1:43 remaining. Game 6 is Monday night in Boston. The Bruins lead the series 3-2.
“Now that they’ve seen our best game, they have to react,” Miller said.
Buffalo had scored the first goal in every game — the only team in the playoffs to do so — but it hadn’t mattered since the Sabres’ 2-1 victory in the opener. They extended the streak to five when Mair took control of the puck near the left corner behind the goal line and flicked a quick shot past Rask.
With Sabres leading scorer Thomas Vanek out for the third straight game because of a foot injury, Ruff challenged his other key offensive players to take charge. In the first four games, Derek Roy, Tim Connolly, and Pominville each had one point — and only one goal — on a combined 33 shots.
Pominville gave the Sabres a 2-0 lead with 66 seconds left in the opening period, scoring his second of the series after Boston’s Vladimir Sobotka and Andrew Ference failed to clear the puck from their zone. Ennis blocked a breakout pass, and the puck deflected to Roy, who fed Pominville at the right side of the net. Pominville flicked a shot into the short side before Rask could recover.
“Tonight was a good example of keeping our composure and being solid with the lead,” Pominville said. “The physicality was there, everybody was involved and everybody chipped in in different ways.”
The Sabres held 2-0 leads in Games 2 and 4, but the Bruins scored the third goal in each as they reeled off three straight wins. The most devastating blow came Wednesday, when Boston rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the third period and won in double overtime despite brilliant play by Miller.
Grier ended any thoughts of another comeback when he scored his second of the series. Paul Gaustad beat Patrice Bergeron on a faceoff deep in the Boston zone, drawing it straight back to Grier. He beat Rask with a one-timer from the high slot.
The goal came seconds after Connolly had hit the post, and Ennis had grazed the crossbar during a Buffalo flurry.
“Goose (Gaustad) moved me over there before the draw,” said Grier, who blocked a shot with his head midway through the third period and then returned. “He felt he could win it there and it was a perfect draw. I heard it hit the post and then I had to wait a second to make sure.”
Buffalo had been outscored 6-0 in the third period in the first four games, and the Bruins made a strong bid to rally on this night, outshooting the Sabres 14-5 in the first 11 minutes of the frame. That equaled their output over the first two periods, but Miller was there every time. He stopped consecutive drives by defensemen Matt Hunwick and Dennis Wideman with 11:12 left and made a pad save on Daniel Paille’s drive when the winger skated in alone with just over 5 minutes left.
The Bruins finally broke through when Boychuk scored on a one-timer from the left point with 2:30 left.
“The last three games we had two-goal deficits,” Boychuk said. “You can’t do that. You’re going to burn yourself, and tonight we did. We came to play finally in the third period. It just wasn’t enough.”
The Sabres continued their futility on the power play, failing twice. They are scoreless on 16 attempts.
The game ended with a melee in front of the Buffalo bench and five players were penalized. Boston captain Zdeno Chara was called for an instigator penalty. If it’s not rescinded, he won’t play in Game 6.
Notes: Vanek hasn’t played since being injured in Game 2. ... Ruff inserted Nathan Gerbe into the lineup in place of veteran winger Raffi Torres in an effort to bolster the attack. Gerbe had one assist. Torres was acquired at the trade deadline in March and didn’t score a goal in 14 games. ... The Sabres are 0-11 in series in which they’ve trailed 3-1, and 5-7 in Game 5.
Live Extra: In an 0-2 hole, the Rangers face a must-win game at home against the Bruins in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
PHT: After the Rangers and Bruins face off in Game 3 of their series (7:30 p.m. ET; Live Extra, NBCSN), the Kings and Sharks play (10 ET; Live Extra, NBCSN) Game 4 of theirs.
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