Between gluttonous handfuls of chili-and-pork nachos during Wednesday’s Game 4 of the Sabres-Bruins series at Lewiston’s Brickyard, I stopped Niagara Falls High School hockey coach Stan Wojton for a little expert analysis as the locals took a 2-0 lead into the third period.
After Wojton dropped the night’s real scoop — that legendary showman and Niagara Falls native John Wayne Bobbitt was standing just a few feet away — he hedged his good feelings by saying what other Sabres fans surely fretted over.
“They look great so far,” Wojton said with an unsettled smirk. “But they can’t take their foot off the gas.”
Stop me if you’ve heard the rest ...
The Sabres have had a knack for taking it easy once they get in front this series. Coasting for a shift or two. Allowing the plodding Bruins a chance to get back in the race.
But on Friday, with locker cleanout penciled in to the weekend’s to-do list, Buffalo kept the accelerator fully engaged after scoring twice in the first period.
The line of Tyler Ennis, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy swarmed around Tuukka Rask even with a big lead, giving the bigger, slower Boston defenders fits. Nathan Gerbe had three shots in the second period, and if not for fanning on one, would have notched his first playoff goal in his first playoff game.
Heck, Tim Connolly had the night’s Carubba Collision. That has to be a first, right?
If nothing else on Friday, Buffalo finally seemed to grasp an important lesson — when a speedy, talented team meets up with one that’s more inclined to grind it out, the fast team needs to keep its wheels spinning.
“We’ve got to keep our composure and our focus on the right things. We’ve had leads but we weren’t able to keep them,” Jason Pominville said. “When they got one (goal), maybe we got out of our comfort zone. But (Friday), we kept our composure. They got one, but we stuck with it, we were able to keep them to the outside and not really give them much after that.”
The Sabres are the more offensively talented team, even if guys like Connolly and Roy haven’t played like it. If Thomas Vanek returns for Monday’s Game 6 — and here’s betting he will — Buffalo’s forwards run deeper that Boston’s lot. The defenses are comparable. The goaltending has basically been even through this series. So it comes to down to speed, and an unabashed affection for it. If the Sabres somehow escape this hole and reach the second round, maybe Miller will be the advantage. But for now, it’s speed — both the Sabres’ surplus, and the Bruins’ lack of it.
To keep the series alive on Monday, the Sabres need to keep attacking, keep those little legs churning no matter what the score.
To steal that line from Wojton, they simply can’t let off the gas.
“Getting up two goals in two of those games and giving those leads up is a little uncharacteristic of the composure that our team has,” Craig Rivet said after the win. “(Friday), we had a full team effort.”