BOSTON – Special teams can make you or break you.
The Buffalo Sabres were unable to convert on any of their six power play opportunities Saturday night against the Boston Bruins in their 4-1 loss at TD Garden.
In a 2-1 game, Buffalo found themselves with 4:11 of power-play time. First, Patrice Bergeron took a cross-checking penalty at the 9:28 mark of the second period and 11 seconds later, Gregory Campbell got his stick up on Sabres defenseman Jamie McBain and drew blood. The Bruins killed off both penalties and allowed only three shots on goal.
Maybe Buffalo’s best chance in that stretch involved Ville Leino hitting the post just as the 5-on-3 expired.
Minutes later, Milan Lucic scored to make it 3-1.
“It just wasn’t there. We had a couple 5-on-3s, a 4-on-3,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. “We had a couple chances and we just didn’t put any kind of energy to get anything going.”
Buffalo had another chance on special teams in the third period when it was 3-1. The Sabres again found themselves on a 5-on-3 penalty, but Sabres captain Ott was called for slashing 30 seconds into the two-man advantage.
“That would’ve been a 5-on-2 basically with [Bruins captain Zdeno] Chara without a stick,” Ott said. “Good chances are you’re going to score in this League with a 5-on-2 to make it a 3-2 game and be right in it with a few minutes to go.
“Obviously that didn’t happen. Calls happen, breaks happen. We didn’t get the break and still no excuse, but I don’t think we were totally good enough tonight. I thought they played pretty solid.”
Reilly Smith scored twice for Boston, including an empty netter with 21.4 seconds left in the game. David Krejci also scored. Tuukka Rask turned aside 34 shots.
“I think we made some really bad decisions at the wrong times,” Nolan said. “I thought we started off OK for a road game, kept it pretty quiet. Then we took a bad penalty. Again, it cost us. We had guys rushing up on the play, trying to make it a 4-on-4 rush. But just bad decision overall.”
Those missed power-play chances are what stood out to Sabres right wing Drew Stafford. The Sabres were coming off back-to-back wins, including one over the Bruins on home ice Thursday.
“If you want to pinpoint one thing we missed out on tonight was the special teams battle,” Stafford said. “Bottom line is, it’s something we know we can practice now come whenever we regroup and it’s back to the drawing board again. But we expected them to respond compared to last game. Unfortunately, the better team won tonight.”
Linus Omark made his debut for the Sabres. He started on a line with center Matt Ellis and right wing Kevin Porter. He committed a hooking penalty that was called at the 9:07 mark of the first and the Bruins scored the game’s opening goal on the power play 32 seconds later.
Carl Soderberg, in the corner to Enroth’s left, found Reilly Smith in the slot and he one-timed the puck past the Sabres netminder.
Buffalo traded a conditional sixth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday for Omark, a 26-year-old wing who had 29 points in 29 games in the American Hockey League this season.
Girgensons tied the game with 1:06 remaining in the first period with his fourth goal of the season. Matt Mouslon walked in from behind the net and put a shot into Rask’s pads. The rebound came to Girgensons, who lifted the puck over Rask’s skate on the short side.
Rask had a shutout streak of 78:54 snapped with Girgensons’ goal.
Krejci scored 1:41 into the second period on a rush that started in the Bruins zone to give Boston a 2-1 lead. Jarome Iginla skated the puck up ice and fed the puck to Krejci in the middle of the ice. Krejci avoided Girgensons’ backchecking effort and wristed the puck in past Enroth from 32 feet out.
Lucic made it 3-1 at the 5:18 mark of the third period after an extended stint in the Sabres zone.
Porter left the game with 2:44 remaining in the second period after taking a hard hit from Johnny Boychuk along the boards in the Boston zone.
Porter is the third forward the Sabres have lost to injury in the past four games. Cody Hodgson, who was injured on Thursday, is expected to miss several weeks with an upper-body ailment, as is Cody McCormick, who sustained an upper-body injury against Calgary on Dec. 14.
Nolan said he didn’t have a full medical report after the game, but expects Porter to miss some time.
The Sabres next play host to the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday at 7 p.m. at First Niagara Center.