Panthers Sabres HockeyPatrick Lalime put forth another solid effort in net for the Sabres Thursday night, and his team responded as Buffalo defeated the Florida Panthers 3-1 at the HSBC Arena. With the win, the Sabres cover some lost ground in the points race to the playoffs as they are now only 3 away from the coveted 8th seed in the Eastern Conference standings. The victory improves the Sabres record to 34-27-7 on the season.

Game Summary

Similar to the last game in Philadelphia, Buffalo got off to a hot start as Jaroslav Spacek scored his 8th of the year just over 3 minutes into the game. Michael Repik would tie it up for Florida 7 minutes later, scoring glove side on a lightning quick goal that Lalime had no chance on. With barely under 3 minutes to go in the first, Danielle Paille gets his 8th of the year, catching a pass from Andrej Sekera along the boards and taking a picture perfect shot that went in stick side, putting the Sabres up 2-1. Both teams skated hard through a scoreless second period, but it looked as if Thomas Vanek had scored as Thomas Vokoun made a glove save that appeared to be behind the goal line. Vanek shot his arms up in celebration, but the ref waved it off. No review was made of the play and the score remained 2-1 at the end of two. Unlike the last game in Philly, the Sabres kept their skating legs in the third period and the effort paid off. Jason Pominville prevented a Panther breakaway by tripping up skater and taking a penalty. Then, Henrik Tallinder took a silly penalty to put the Sabres down two men, giving Florida a 5 on 3 situation for what felt like an eternal 1:06. For the penalty kill, Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff put out Tim Connolly, Jaroslav Spacek, and Toni Lydman. Those guys stood their ground by not allowing Florida to score, and a fresh squad replaced them for the 5 on 4 situation. Patrick Lalime stopped 6 shots in the near 3 minutes of penalties as the Sabres held onto their one goal lead. With under 3 minutes left to play, Thomas Vanek scored the insurance goal for Buffalo (his first tally since returning from a fractured jaw injury) on the power play. Vanek caught Vokoun out of position, easily scoring his 34th of the year and his 17th power play goal.

Game Analysis

When the Sabres actually show up to play the team is one to be reckoned with, as they swarm the opponent and are relentless with their attacks. The problem with the Sabres is that they have been unable to find any consistency since the beginning of the year, and that has resulted in their recent slide in the standings. Team Panthers Sabres Hockeycaptain Craig Rivet couldn’t have put it better, “It was the biggest game of the year. We needed this game to get us back in it. We still have a ways to go but we’re going to keep punching.” That’s what the Sabres need to do; Keep punching. Far too often this club gets down on themselves, figure skating across the ice, expecting things to happen with the flip of a switch. That strategy worked when Daniel Briere and Chris Drury were on the team, but not anymore. 

The line of new Sabre Dominic Moore, Maxim Afinogenov, and Adam Mair produced some of Buffalo’s better opportunities, despite being pointless on the night. The line has played well together the last few games, and if they can finish their chances, it would help the Buffalo scoreboard. Who isn’t eagerly awaiting Moore’s first goal as a Sabre? It was a smart move by Ruff to put Moore on the penalty kill as he isn’t afraid to hit guys, taking them off the puck. On a similar note, it’s easy to get pumped about Buffalo native Pat Kaleta. The guy is mean and tough and doesn’t take anything from opposing players. If it weren’t for Kaleta’s size, he could be the teams main enforcer instead of Andrew Peters, as he’s a better fighter and actually scores goals once in awhile.

Fast Facts

-Panther goalie Thomas Vokoun made 20 saves on the night, compared to Patrick Lalime’s 30 saves. The first period of this hockey game was penalty free.

-Lalime has started 8 games in a row in place of the injured Ryan Miller who is out indefinitely with a high ankle sprain. In that span he has gone 3-4-1.

Panthers Sabres Hockey-The blooper reel highlight of the night was when Hank Tallinder was leaving the penalty box, taking a pass along the boards for a potential break away. Instead of taking a shot on net, however, Tallinder lost his balance and fell down, losing the puck. This had to be hilarious to anyone who isn’t a Buffalo fan.  

-The Sabres are 21-6-3 this season when leading after the first period, and have only given up 3 goals this year when facing a 5 on 3 situation.

-Sabre defencemen have amassed a total of 120 points so far this year.

-The Sabres have won 3 straight home games.

-This game marked Panther player Richard Zednik’s first in Buffalo since getting his throat slit open by teammate Olli Jokinen’s skate 13 months prior. When the Panthers took to the ice for their morning skate yesterday, the first thing Zednik did was go to the spot where his life nearly ended. He didn’t make a big deal about the action, stating, “I was trying to not think about it, it’s just like any other game as it’s a big game for us.” 

-Whenever the Minnesota Wild score, the song that plays at the Xcel Energy Center was the same one that played when Danielle Paille scored in the first period. It felt odd and out of place hearing that tune played after a Sabre goal in the HSBC Arena.

The Final Word

This was a huge win for the Sabres as they now find themselves three points out of the final playoff spot, and still in the thick of the race to the post season. Here is how the Eastern Conference standings currently look: 

  1. Boston Bruins (97 points)
  2. New Jersey Devils (91)
  3. Washington Capitals (90)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (82)
  5. Montreal Canadiens (80)
  6. Pittsburgh Penguins (79)
  7. New York Rangers (78)
  8. Carolina Hurricanes (78)
  • In the hunt: Florida Panthers (77), Buffalo Sabres (75), Toronto Maple Loafs (67)

On Saturday night the Atlanta Thrashers come to the HSBC Arena. This is the perfect opportunity for Buffalo to gain some momentum going into the home stretch as Atlanta is 28th in the league with only 60 points. A loss however, would be a severe blow to the team’s morale, further hindering their chances of catching up to the teams in front of them. Here’s to hoping for the former.

Go Sabres!