Craig Smith, second from left, is congratulated by teammates Charlie McAvoy, left, David Krejci and Taylor Hall after completing a hat trick Saturday afternoon in Boston’s 6-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

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 slipped into third place in the NHL’s East Division, a point ahead of the Islanders, who host the Rangers on Saturday night.

“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 scored for Boston. Rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman made 18 saves, 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 got 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 got his first goal just 1:21 into the game when he redirected Krejci’s pass into the net. His second goal increased the lead to 5-1 in the third, and he completed his hat trick by redirecting another Krejci pass in the slot for a power-play goal with 5:55 remaining.

“He’s a popular guy in the room,” Boston Coach Bruce Cassidy said of Smith, who signed with the Bruins as a free agent in October. “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.

BREAKDOWN

Sheahan’s goal made it 1-1 in the opening period. With the Sabres shorthanded two players, defenseman Jacob Bryson sent a clearing pass to center ice, just as Sheahan stepped out of the penalty box. He collected the puck and scored on a clean breakaway.

WEAK SHOWING

The Sabres were outshot 17-4 in the opening period and didn’t reach double digits in shots until midway into the second. Boston outshot them for the game, 43-19.

 

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