Rookie Tuukka Rask of Boston had an outstanding season, taking the starting job from veteran Tim Thomas and playing consistently behind a hard-working but low-scoring Bruins team.
Ryan Miller was already having an outstanding season. He was leading the Sabres to the Northeast Division title, but the two-week NHL break for the Olympics allowed Miller to showcase his skills on a much larger stage, as he helped Team USA to an unexpected silver medal in Vancouver.
The two were expected to engage in a riveting goaltending duel in this first-round series, and that really came to fruition Monday night. Rask got the better of Miller in a 2-1 win that gives Boston a 2-1 series lead.
Buffalo was obviously missing injured forward Thomas Vanek, who would have given them some more punch around the net, but it might not have mattered much on this night. Rask was that good. This was his coming-out party for those who weren't believers after he pretty much ripped the starting job from an inconsistent Thomas in Boston.
He stopped everything in sight, outside of a Mike Grier goal less than halfway through the first. He shut down the Sabres' up-and-down power play, which is where they most missed Vanek's presence.
On the other end of the ice, the game's story would be written with less than eight minutes to go, when 42-year-old Mark Recchi engaged in a race for a loose puck with Buffalo's Tim Kennedy, 23. The elder Recchi put a shoulder into Kennedy as the two converged on the puck, a play that might be considered a penalty with six minutes left in the first period of a preseason game, but is nothing close to that in a playoff game.
At this moment, it was all about Recchi wanting that puck more than Kennedy. He knocked Kennedy off the puck as if he was a small child, and fed it in front to an open Patrice Bergeron, who one-timed the game-winning goal past a helpless Miller.
One play, one race, one hit defined this game, and the last two games of this series. The Bruins have outhit the Sabres, and they appear to want "it" more than Buffalo.
If the goaltending hasn't been enough, the series has also featured the most intense hockey we've seen so far. It got out of hand again with just more than six minutes to go, as Vladimir Sobotka of Boston and Andrej Sekera of Buffalo got matching fighting majors, while Bruin Andrew Ference and Buffalo's Raffi Torres picked up ten-minute misconducts for their poor behavior.
This series has featured a near line brawl in Game 1, plenty of hitting and intensity in Game 2, and a fight in Game 3.
So far, Boston has gotten the better of the physical play, and Rask is playing well in goal. It's their series to lose, unless the Sabres can find some life. Game 4 is in Boston on Wednesday night, and it could be fairly considered a must-win for the Sabres.