The Boston Bruins clinched the President's Trophy on Saturday and the home ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs that comes with it, courtesy of a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, but may have paid a heavier price than they needed to.
With Chris Kelly already out of the lineup with back issues, Daniel Paille joined Patrice Bergeron in leaving the contest early - Paille getting drilled in the head by Jake McCabe and Bergeron perhaps with an aggravation of the undisclosed injury that kept him out of Thursday's shootout loss to Winnipeg.
|Bruins' centerman David Krejci scores the first of his two goals|
And it could have been a lot worse, what with rouge sticks flying face high and several high-speed near collisions that very well could have resulted in hurt feelings at the very least - not to mention skating fist John Scott trying to goad Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara into dropping gloves...
...but in the end it was just a hockey game that was dominated from the opening faceoff to the final buzzer by a Bruins' team that seemed determined to end the race for the best record and just get on with the playoffs.
The Sabres gave everything they had - they usually do against Boston - but were reduced to playing catch up hockey for most of the afternoon, the Bruins getting two quick goals late in the first period from Gregory Campbell and David Krejci and Bergeron put the game out of reach halfway through the match, Krejci then potting another in the third for good measure.
Cody Hodgson scored Buffalo's lone goal against Bruins' netminder Tuukka Rask, who stopped the other 24 shots he faced to earn his 36th win of the season - while Sabres' young goaltender Matt Hackett stopped only 20 of 23 Bruins' shots before suffering what appeared to be a broken right leg and being taken off the ice immobilized on a stretcher.
Hackett's replacement, Conner Knapp, fared no better, allowing Krejci's second goal just two minutes into his relief effort.
Campbell's goal at the 16:54 mark of the first was the result of some fine passing from the wings, Shawn Thornton stretching a pass across center ice to Jordan Caron, who set up shop on the left wing and fed the puck to a streaking Campbell's tape, who merely had to open his stick to deflect the shot past Hackett...
...Krejci's just as easy as he took a Zdeno Chara purposely wide of the net pass, the puck bounding off the end boards and Krejci played the carom perfectly, taking the puck on his backhand on the opposite side of the net and easily snapped it behind a sprawling Hackett just 1:41 after Campbell opened the scoring.
Bergeron's goal was a little more on the conventional side, his one timer off of a short Brad Marchand feed near the dot in the right circle beating Hackett between the wickets - Hodgson potting his goal past Rask a few minutes later to make the score 3-1 heading into the rooms for the second intermission - setting up a third period that saw Buffalo's backup goalie knock Krejci's second goal into the net himself.
Krejci released a rocket from the point that screamed past the goal and struck the glass, the puck tumbling to the ice and sliding to the crease on the Knapp's glove side, but the netminder couldn't find the puck that was right on his left skate and knocked it in as he arose from his butterfly.
So with everything sewn up that the Bruins could possibly achieve, Sunday afternoon's match in New Jersey means absolutely nothing to Boston and even less to the Devils, their season over at the final horn - so as one might expect, coach Claude Julien will look to rest as many players as he possibly can.
"After I’m done with you guys I’ve got to sit down with my general manager and look at the situation," Julien told beat writers in the room after the game. "Obviously, our health issues, and also maybe giving some guys some rest."
"I can tell you right now, we’re going to try to bring some guys up." Julien continued, referring to recalling players from AHL Providence. "I don’t know yet who because of what’s happened today. I don’t know who is going to be left behind or who will not play tomorrow, but we’ll have a different lineup."
As for Paille, he was helped from the ice by teammates after the collision with McCabe - and even though it appeared from replays that McCabe meant no malfeasance from the hit, he was still assessed an interference major and a game misconduct penalty, though he should not face any supplementary from the league.
"I mean, I knew right away that it probably didn’t look good, he dropped like that and you hope the guy is okay," said McCabe, "I think he’s got a concussion history in the past, a couple of guys are telling me, so the best wishes for that, but I wasn’t trying to be dirty at all; I was just trying to play hard."
A concussion appears to be the layman's diagnosis, and it's a good bet that Paille will not even board a plane for Newark - but in the strangest sequence that a hockey fan will ever see, Campbell went right after McCabe following the hit, which happened right in front of the Buffalo bench...
...fists clenched, and just as Campbell was about to deliver the roundhouse right, Sabres' goon Scott casually reached out and grabbed Campbell's forearm to prevent the punch being thrown, allowing some sportmanship on the part of Sabres' centerman Tyler Ennis, who grasped onto the visibly shaky Paille as he arose and prevented him from hitting the ice again.
And that is the enduring memory most would like to take from the Sabres / Bruins rivalry for this year - an act of humanity and sportsmanship from a hockey player whose season was just minutes from being over.