BOSTON — Craig Smith scored three goals Saturday to help the Boston Bruins complete their season-series dominance over the Buffalo Sabres with a 6-2 victory.
With its ninth victory in 11 games, Boston remained in fourth place in the NHL’s East division, a point behind the third-place Islanders, who beat the Rangers 3-0 on Saturday night. The Bruins’ next point will clinch a playoff berth. They also will earn a spot if the fifth-place Rangers don’t win all of their final four games.
“It was cool seeing the hats flying,” Smith said of his second career hat trick, but first with Boston. “I don’t see it very often for myself.”
Nick Ritchie added a goal and an assist, and Sean Kuraly and Patrice Bergeron also had a goal for Boston. Rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman out of the University of Maine made 17 saves in his eighth start, and David Krejci had three assists — all on Smith’s goals.
“We’re heading in the right direction,” Kuraly said.
The Bruins went 7-1 against the Sabres this season and improved to 21-4-1 in the teams’ last 26 meetings.
Arttu Ruotsalainen scored, and Riley Sheahan added a shorthanded goal for Buffalo, which has lost six of seven.
“I think a lot of the goals came from self-inflicted mistakes,” Sheahan said. “We weren’t on our game. … I guess we got it handed to us.”
Buffalo rookie goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, making his third straight start, got his left leg caught awkwardly next to the post late in the closing seconds of the second period. He dropped to the ice and had to be helped off skating slowly after the period ended. He stopped 26 shots before Dustin Tokarski played the third.
“No update until we get back (home),” Sabres interim coach Don Granato said. “It was a tough day all around. It was a great opportunity to get him some minutes and now that’s in question.”
Smith’s first goal had made it 1-0 just 1:21 into the game when he redirected Krejci’s pass into the net. His second goal increased it to 5-1 in the third, and he completed the hat trick by redirecting Krejci’s pass by Tokarski from the slot for a power-play score with 5:55 to play, sending some hats flying to the TD Garden ice from the limited-capacity crowd.
“He’s a popular guy in the room,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Obviously, with COVID it’s hard to get to know guys.”
Kuraly scored off the rebound of Ritchie’s shot from just outside the crease, moving the Bruins ahead for good with 3:22 left in the opening period.
Bergeron made it 3-1 in the second, scoring off a rebound by slipping a backhander past Luukkonen’s stick as he was falling to one knee.
Bergeron’s three young children — two boys and a girl — and his wife, Stephanie, were seated in the loge level watching the game.
His family sat next to the glass during pregame warmups and he was able to chat with them, breaking into a smile.
Sheahan’s score made it 1-1 in the opening period. With the Sabres shorthanded two players, defenseman Jacob Bryson sent a clearing pass through the center and, just as Sheahan’s penalty was expiring, he collected the puck on scored on a clean breakaway.
The Sabres were outshot 17-4 in the opening period and didn’t reach double digits in shots on goal until midway into the second. Boston outshot them for the game, 43-19.
Sabres: Host the Islanders on Monday, the first of consecutive nights at home against them.
Bruins: Travel to the Devils on Monday for the opener of back-to-back nights against them in New Jersey.
By Ken Powtak