BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Boston Bruins gained one point in their previous game, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 11. That was not good enough.
After a day off Sunday, they returned to work on Monday. They went through a hard practice. The session included no-pucks sprints.
The standard is high.
“That’s what everybody strives for,” ex-Buffalo Sabre Linus Ullmark said after Tuesday’s 5-2 rout of his former team. “You want to be in a winning culture. You want to create a winning culture. You want to carry on a winning culture. Boston has been so good throughout many years of doing that. Now we’ve got to pick up the torch and keep the flame burning as bright as it has been.”
Throughout the Bruins’ 12-1-2 start, Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman have been more responsible than anyone at keeping the torch ablaze. They have alternated each game, giving the Bruins a two-point opportunity every time.
On Tuesday, Ullmark stopped 32 of 34 shots, including a right-to-left smother of Jeff Skinner’s close-range attempt in the game’s final minute. Even in garbage time, Ullmark was competing his tail off.
“It’s the singular reason why we have the record we have,” said coach Jim Montgomery. “It’s because of our goaltenders. We’re still giving up way too much. Even tonight, in the last 30 minutes, we gave up way too much off the rush. That’s an area we significantly have to improve. They’re hiding or masking how poor we are right now at defending the rush.”
Casey Mittelstadt thought he had a rush chance late in the first. Ullmark denied him the opportunity. The goalie dashed out of the crease to play the puck. Partway through his journey, Ullmark second-guessed his decision. It wasn’t until the puck landed on Brandon Carlo’s blade that Ullmark resumed breathing. Moments later, Carlo cashed in a three-on-one rush to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead.
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— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) November 15, 2023
“I was coming out,” said Ullmark. “I had the momentum with me. So I just went with it. The thing that goes through your mind is if you should go full-on poke check or just half-poke check. As soon as I did that, I’m like, ‘Oh boy, here we go.’ Because all of a sudden, the puck just disappears in the chaos. But luckily Brando just picked it up, he went down there and scored.”
Ullmark submitted an excellent performance. Devon Levi did not.
The ex-Northeastern University standout spit out a Charlie McAvoy wrister on the first shot he saw. By leaving the rebound in front, Levi let Danton Heinen punch in the game’s first goal. Just over a minute later, David Pastrnak one-timed home the Bruins’ second goal.
Levi could do nothing on Carlo’s rush strike. But he could not stop Oskar Steen’s first goal of the season, a second-period wrister from the left faceoff dot. Levi’s fifth goal against was his worst: a Hampus Lindholm power-play one-timer from the point.
After Victor Olofsson scored the Sabres’ first goal at 15:07 of the second, coach Don Granato pulled Levi for Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Bruins were expected to score 2.48 all-situations goals based on the quality — or lack thereof — of their attempts.
“Obviously you hope he responds well,” Granato said of the 21-year-old (13 saves on 18 shots). “You do what you can to help him through this. All of these situations are gained experience. Unfortunately, not good experiences. But experience you need to gain. He’s competitive. He battles. He’s very intelligent about the position and about himself as well. He’ll respond. This is what you go through. It’s an 82-game grind. Pro sports are unrelenting. You’ve got to fight back.”
The 7-8-1 Sabres are up against it, as usual. They are on pace to miss the playoffs for the 13th straight year, the longest streak in the NHL.
They were already missing Alex Tuch. Now they will be without Tage Thompson for what Granato called “significant time.” Thompson, the Sabres’ most dangerous offensive presence, suffered two injuries on Tuesday. The latter, an upper-body ailment, is the serious one.
The Bruins, meanwhile, keep rolling. They have areas that require tightening. But they have swiped 26 of 30 possible points.
“We started on time,” said Montgomery. “I liked how physical we were and how we were able to get to our identity of being a puck-possession team.”
(Photo of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark: Bill Wippert / NHLI via Getty Images)