The Bruins worked so hard just to make it into the playoffs that they figured they might as well stick around for a while and see how far their chemistry, muscle and goaltending can carry them.
Boston had to overcome serious injuries all season but it looks like it's coming together for the team at just the right time with more help on the way. The Bruins held it together long enough Monday for a 4-3 victory over the Sabres to win the first round in six games.
"We always knew we had it in us," said forward David Krejci, who had two goals and set up Mark Recchi for another. "Some guys had a tough year, but we knew it was in us and we showed it in the first round. It starts right now. We have to do the same thing in the second [round]."
The Bruins have essentially the same team they had last season, when they finished with the NHL's best record but were bounced in the second round by Carolina. Boston could sneak up on teams this time around, especially with center Marc Savard expected to return soon from a Grade 2 concussion suffered March 7.
Boston will play either Pittsburgh or Washington in the second round. The Bruins can thank their special teams for ousting the Sabres in the first round. Boston added two more power-play goals Monday night, giving them six in 22 opportunities over the six games. They were perfect on the penalty kill, negating all 19 opportunities for Buffalo.
"Two key statistics," said Bruins winger Miroslav Satan, who scored two winners against his former team. "It's important in the playoffs to use your power play, and if you can kill theirs it's even better. Both special teams did great. Overall, it was a good performance by everybody."
Sabres winger Thomas Vanek came back from a sprained left ankle suffered in Game Two and scored a goal with 1:13 remaining and Miller on the bench to make it interesting.
The Sabres were hoping Vanek would take off after a late-season surge, but he watched most of the series before returning Monday. He scored off a pass from Jason Pominville and lacked the necessary jump to make an impact in the game.
"I felt good," Vanek said. "I thought I created some good chances for myself. The first shift, I had a good chance and buried it right in the 'B' and later on, right in the glove. I don't regret that I played. I was put back in the lineup to bring some offense, and I generated that too late."
Bruins winger Milan Lucic was held without a point before setting up two goals in the clinching game.
He made a terrific play when he won a battle with Derek Roy behind the net and found Krejci standing alone in the slot. Krejci flipped a quick wrist shot into the top corner.
Lucic also set up Satan for the winner with a perfect cross-ice pass to the doorstep, where the net was wide open.
"I can definitely take some confidence out of this, for sure," Lucic said. "I was able to elevate my game more in this game than in the previous five, so it's a great feeling and great that I was able to contribute. I can't look back now. I can't be satisfied."
Boston strikes first
The Bruins finally scored the first goal after allowing the Sabres to opening the scoring in the first five games. Boston never trailed in the game.
Buffalo led for 178 minutes, three seconds in the series while the Bruins led for only 79 minutes, 40 seconds. It was enough to secure the series in six games.
"Buffalo always had really, really strong starts," defenseman Zdeno Chara said. "They earned that (reputation) of a team that comes out flying and gets the early lead. We seemed to kind of feed off a little bit of that."
Sabres winger Mike Grier signed a one-year contract but could begin talks with the team in the next few weeks about an extension. Grier was the Sabres' most consistent forward and was encouraged by what he saw from their young players in the postseason.
"I think we can be happy with a lot of things," Grier said. "We got back in the playoffs. We showed that we have some of the best young talent in this league. We have a good system in place. We just have to take the next step as a hockey team."
Mark Recchi recorded his 75th career playoff assist when he set up Krejci with a perfect pass in the high slot for the first goal. Recchi also added his 53rd career playoff goal, giving him 127 points in 157 postseason games. … Marco Sturm was held without a point in the six postseason games. … Tim Connolly had one assist to show in the playoffs for Buffalo.