BOSTON -- Through their long history dating to 1924, the only team the Boston Bruins had never swept in a season series had been the Buffalo Sabres. That changed Saturday in TD Garden.
The Bruins were workmanlike in rolling past Buffalo, 3-1, in a New Year's Eve matinee before the usual sellout crowd of 17,595. As a result, they swept both a four-game season series and what the Sabres had labeled as the season's most important back-to-back set.
Frank Vatrano beat Robin Lehner on a quick shot just 1:28 into the first period and Boston never trailed again. Buffalo is now 10 points behind the Bruins, who hold third place and the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.
The Buffalo offense: The Sabres were already in a 3-0 hole when Jack Eichel scored his seventh goal of the season with 21.2 seconds left in the second period. It came on a one-time slapshot off a back pass from Rasmus Ristolainen, who posted his 22nd assist. Sam Reinhart got the secondary assist, extending his career-high point streak to six games.
The opener: Vatrano took a diagonal pass from Zdeno Chara and beat Lehner from the right circle on a shot that may have been deflected by Jake McCabe. It gave the Bruins a quick lead much like the one the Sabres took in their 4-2 loss Thursday in KeyBank Center. Marcus Foligno scored at 1:32 of that game.
Prescient point: During his pregame briefing with reporters a couple of hours before faceoff, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma bemoaned a major factor in the team's penalty killing problems was its simple inability to clear the puck out of its zone when it has control. That reared its head again on Patrice Bergeron's goal at 7:04 of the second period that added to Buffalo's woes as the league's worst PK unit.
With three seconds left on a slashing penalty to Eichel, Bergeron pounded home a Ryan Spooner feed to put Boston up, 2-0. It came a few seconds after Ristolainen had the puck on his stick and simply didn't get it out of the Buffalo zone. The puck never left the Sabres' end until it was in the net.
Soft one: Lehner would certainly want the Bruins' third goal back as former Sabres center Tim Schaller confounded him with a backhand between the legs from the right boards to put Boston in front 3-0 at 9:29 of the second period. It was the fifth goal of the season for Schaller, a New England native and former Providence College product who scored two goals in 35 games with the Sabres the last two years and spent most of the last three seasons in Rochester. He signed with the Bruins as an unrestricted free agent over the summer.
Not so special teams: The Sabres went 0 for 4 on the power play and managed just five shots on goal during those chances, including a 5-on-3 advantage for 67 seconds in the first period.
Matinee mania: The Bruins improved to 4-0 in afternoon games this season. The Sabres fell to 1-2. They have four more remaining, including next Saturday's visit by Winnipeg.
Add two more to the injury rolls: The first period was not kind to the Sabres. Johan Larsson was pounded into the boards by Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid and left with an apparent left arm/shoulder injury. Josh Gorges suffered a hip injury. Neither player returned. The Sabres, of course, were already playing without Ryan O'Reilly (appendectomy) and Dmitry Kulikov (back).
Up Next: The Sabres flew home immediately after the game but will head back on the road Monday for a tough two-game trip. They play the New York Rangers Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden and the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday in United Center.