BUFFALO, N.Y. — Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara thinks his surging team can get better. If Tim Thomas keeps playing this well, there might be no limit to how good they can be.
Thomas made 33 saves in his seventh straight win, and Brad Marchand and Michael Ryder had a goal and assist each to lift the Bruins to a 5-2 victory over the Ryan Miller-less Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.
Thomas (7-0), who entered with a 0.50 goals-against average after consecutive shutouts, had his shutout streak of 167 minutes, 12 seconds snapped when Drew Stafford’s second-period goal made it 4-1.
“Right now we’re feeling pretty good, but at the same time we can get better,” Chara said. “There’s always room to improve. But overall, yeah, it’s nice to be winning.”
After losing 5-2 to Phoenix in the season opener, Boston is 6-1 behind the standout play of Thomas, who allowed more than one goal for the first time this season. Thomas tied his career high for longest winning streak.
Thomas said he is playing his best since making his NHL debut in October 2002, but it is not the fastest start of his career. He registered five shutouts in the first 10 games for Jokerit of the Finnish league during the lockout season of 2004-05.
“It was kind of something similar to this start,” Thomas said. “I was able to ride that the whole year, so I hope the same thing happens.”
Thomas’ best save came as the Sabres’ 37-second, two-man advantage was winding down with 13 minutes to go. He dived and reached behind with the paddle of his stick to deny Derek Roy’s stuff-in chance at the right post.
Patrice Bergeron, Blake Wheeler and Milan Lucic also scored for Boston (7-2), which set a franchise record by winning its fifth consecutive road game to open a season.
“Everybody’s playing pretty good,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “We don’t have any passengers, everybody’s working hard, and everybody’s committed.”
The same can’t be said for the sliding Sabres (3-8-2), who lost their fourth straight while playing with Miller out of uniform for the first time this season. Miller is nursing an undisclosed lower body injury that he tweaked late in Friday’s overtime loss to the Atlanta Thrashers.
Andrej Sekera also scored for Buffalo, which came in with the second-fewest points (8) in the NHL after winning the Northeast Division last season.
“We’re looking at trying to get a win, and guys are uptight before we even start the game,” said Sabres captain Craig Rivet, who returned to the lineup after a two-game benching. “The breakdowns are coming from guys squeezing their sticks like it’s a grenade.”
Rookie Jhonas Enroth, recalled from Portland of the AHL, got the surprise start for Buffalo over regular backup Patrick Lalime, but was pulled after surrendering three goals on 12 shots in one period.
Lalime then gave up two goals on 13 shots. The 22-year-old Enroth made just his second career NHL start, both against the Bruins.
“Guys were racing to get off the ice instead of racing to get on,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
Buffalo welcomed back right wing Jason Pominville, who missed nine games because of a concussion sustained when he was hit into the boards from behind by Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Boston scored three times in the first period, including short-handed goals by Marchand and Bergeron. Marchand scored on a breakaway after taking Tim Connolly’s errant pass in the Boston zone. Bergeron wristed in his second of the season from the top of the right circle.
Marchand celebrated his first NHL goal, but Connolly then heard boos from the unhappy home crowd whenever he touched the puck in the third period.
Wheeler pushed the Bruins’ lead to 3-0 with his first of the season with 3:06 left in the first period. Standing just outside the corner of the crease, Wheeler lifted in Ryder’s pass from behind the net after outmuscling Stafford.
Ryder made it 4-0 at 2:11 of the second, wristing a shot past from the lower portion of the right circle past Lalime.
Stafford finally solved Thomas with a power-play goal with 3:21 left in the second period, banging home a loose puck.
Sekera cut the deficit to 4-2 with 4:34 remaining in the game.
Lucic capped the scoring with an empty-net goal with 2:07 left.
Notes: Buffalo is 0-5-1 at home. … Sabres RW Mike Grier played in his 1,000th NHL game. … Ruff, who coached in his 997th NHL game, will be inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday. … It was the first meeting between these teams since Boston ousted Buffalo in six games in the first round of last season’s playoffs. … Thomas came in having lost five straight starts against Buffalo. … Stafford’s goal snapped Boston’s overall shutout string at 195 minutes, 51 seconds.
Capitals 5, Maple Leafs 4
WASHINGTON — Alexander Semin’s seventh goal of the season tied the game with about 5½ minutes left in regulation Wednesday night, and he also scored the final goal in the shootout to lift the Washington Capitals to a 5-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Capitals led 3-1 heading into the third period, before Mike Brown, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak scored in a span of 3:03 for the visitors.
But Semin evened the game at 4-all on a power play.
Then he and Alex Ovechkin scored for Washington in the shootout, while Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth stopped both of Toronto’s attempts.
Nikolai Kulemin gave the Leafs a 1-0 lead with a goal at the 14:29 mark of the first period, before Mike Green, Jason Chimera and Tomas Fleischmann scored for Washington in the second period.
Ovechkin assisted on Green’s power-play goal and on Semin’s late third-period goal for Washington, which has won four of its past five games.
Capitals rookie Neuvirth finished with 24 saves. Toronto’s Jonas Gustavsson stopped 26 shots for the Maple Leafs, who have lost four consecutive games, and seven of their last eight.
NOTES: The Leafs broke out of a scoring slump; they hadn’t scored more than three goals in a game since Oct. 15, when they beat the New York Rangers 4-3 in overtime. … Neuvirth entered the game already tied for the NHL lead with seven wins and earned rookie of the month honors in October.
Hurricanes 7, Islanders 2
RALEIGH, N.C. — Once the Carolina Hurricanes finally figured out how to score at home, they just didn’t stop peppering New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro.
Carolina was shut out by Washington and Pittsburgh in its only other home games this season, but broke out in a big way with a 7-2 rout of the Islanders on Wednesday night.
Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice thought his team was tense in the opening minutes against New York, but by the time the first period was over, Carolina had a 3-0 lead.
By the time Carolina finished scoring a season-high seven goals, there was no anxiety at all in the victorious dressing room.
“I didn’t want to go through that first period without scoring,” Maurice said. “It was good because then you don’t have to talk about (the scoreless streak) any more.”
Cam Ward made 31 saves, and Jon Matsumoto scored his first two NHL goals to pace the Hurricanes.
Joe Corvo, Eric Staal, Brandon Sutter, Jiri Tlusty and Jeff Skinner also scored, Sergei Samsonov had three assists, and Chad LaRose and Tom Kostopoulos both helped set up two goals for the Hurricanes, who snapped a two-game losing streak. The seven goals were Carolina’s season high.
“It was pretty much the same kind of effort we’ve been getting,” Maurice said. “There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. (But) then we got on a roll, got a good feeling and started to do a lot of good things right for a while. Then coaches have fun after that.”
DiPietro played the whole game and allowed all seven goals on 32 shots as the Islanders lost their fifth straight game.
Michael Grabner and P.A. Parenteau had goals for the Islanders, who have been outscored 13-3 in their past two games — including a 6-1 loss at Philadelphia on Saturday night.
“We’re extremely disappointed,” New York defenseman Mike Mottau said. “We wanted to come out with a better effort after the loss in Philly. This team was struggling at home, and we wanted to take advantage of it. We didn’t put our best effort out there, and it showed on the scoreboard.”
The Hurricanes broke their home scoreless streak 10:12 into the first period when Corvo slapped a shot past a lunging DiPietro.
Samsonov was instrumental in the next goal, darting around the offensive zone before finding Matsumoto in front. Matsumoto shoveled a shot past DiPietro for his first goal.
Just over three minutes later, Samsonov centered the puck out of the corner to Staal, who sent a one-timer past DiPietro from the slot.
The Hurricanes then scored a pair of odd goals 43 seconds apart in the middle period.
DiPietro tried to freeze the puck in the crease under little pressure from the Hurricanes, but he couldn’t grab it. Sutter stole the puck and snapped a shot into the open net.
Tlusty then scored on a rebound off the end boards. Sutter fell into DiPietro before the goal, causing DiPietro to complain to the officials. Tlusty also clipped New York defenseman Radek Martinek in the face with his stick on his follow-through.
“They did a good job offensively, and we needed to tighten up defensively and not give them as much time and space,” Mottau said.
Grabner scored early in the third period to spoil Ward’s shutout bid.
Skinner and Parenteau then traded power-play goals before Matsumoto finished the scoring.
“(General manager) Jim Rutherford came down today and he just told us, ‘If you’re going to play in the league, at least have fun while you’re doing it,’” Matsumoto said. “It’s a lot more fun when you’re winning.”
Notes: Carolina D Joni Pitkanen left the game with an upper body injury in the second period and didn’t return. New York’s John Tavares took a high stick took the face in the second period and went to the dressing room for stitches. Skinner leads NHL rookies in scoring.