Sabres Thrashers HockeyThe Buffalo Sabres entered Wednesday night’s contest against the Atlanta Thrashers in desperate need of two points. The Sabres left the Philips Arena with only one however, keeping their already slim playoff hopes barely alive. Buffalo dropped a 1-0 lead, losing 3-2 with only seconds left in overtime. The loss marked a season sweep of the Sabres by the Thrashers, as Buffalo drops to 37-30-9 on the year.

Game Summary

Seven minutes in Buffalo scored first on a power play goal from Thomas Vanek (his 36th of the year) against an Atlanta club that has already been eliminated from playoff contention. The Thrashers responded a minute and a half later when Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller went down early and Zach Bogosian caught him out of position to tie the game at 1. Ex-Sabre Vyacheslav Kozlov gave Atlanta the lead 10:26 into the second period; Ryan Miller made a phenomenal save with his stick, but Dominic Moore was unable to clear the puck out of the crease and Kozlov was there to knock it in. Shortly thereafter, Vanek netted his second of the night (his 37th) when the Sabres were on a 5 on 3 man advantage, tying the game at 2. Notice how loudly the crowd cheers after Vanek scores when Atlanta is supposed to be the home team! With just over two minutes remaining in the third period, Buffalo’s shootout hero in Montreal, defenceman Toni Lydman, took a stupid hooking call to put the Thrashers on the power play for the final ticks of the game. Buffalo survived though, sending the contest into overtime, and as expected it was fast paced end-to-end hockey. While Vanek and Miller were responsible for keeping Buffalo in the game, the two leaders ultimately dropped the ball for their team as Ilya Kovalchuk robbed the club of a much needed point. With only 30 seconds remaining in OT, Vanek tried to send a pass over to Jaroslav Spacek, but the puck hit Kovalchuk’s skate giving him a breakaway and he beat Miller five-hole. The score alloted Atlanta a 3-2 victory over a desperate Buffalo club.

Ryan Miller faced 30 shots while Atlanta goaltender, Johan Hedberg was hit with 32. The Thrashers were 0 for 3 on the power play while the Sabres went 2 for 6.

Game Analysis

Buffalo didn’t look lazy in this game but they couldn’t close the door on most of their chances. Thomas Vanek felt terrible about his game-ending giveaway stating, “I gave their best player a breakaway to lose the game for us. It’s disappointing. It’s tough when you let your teammates down like that…. It was a stupid play.” It really is too bad that Vanek had to be the scapegoat for this loss considering he was the only Sabre who managed to score in the contest. Had the Sabres won, he and Miller would have been the heroes of the night. Said Miller of Kovalchuk’s goal, “I tried to cheat the five-hole. He got it up over my stick and hit me straight in the pad right above where the knee 114-57102841standaloneprod_affiliate50break is and powered it through.” Poor guys.

It was easy to tell that there were a lot of Sabres fans in attendance. The arena looked to be a little over half full, and as a result the “Lets Go Buffalo!” chant could be heard loud and clear throughout the game. Funny how the Atlanta commentators never mentioned it during the broadcast.

The loss means that the Thrashers have swept the Sabres this season, going 4-0. Buffalo dropped 2 games in OT and 2 games in a shootout against Atlanta, and the Philadelphia Flyers are the only other club the Sabres were winless against in the Eastern Conference this year.

Fast Facts

-The Thrashers  have beaten the Sabres 10 times out of their last 13 meetings at the Philips Arena, and are 12-3-3 against Buffalo at home.

 
-Buffalo’s second string goalie, Patrick Lalime was scratched in this game due to an injured hip. As a result, Mikael Tellqvist played the role of backup. Maxim Afinogenov, Andrej Sekera, Nathan Paetsch, Andrew Peters, and Matt Ellis were also scratched. Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff stated that he thought Afinogenov has been taking shifts that last too long and has reverted to his old ways of turning the puck over. Young defenceman Andrej Sekera sat the game out due to his admission to Ruff earlier in the week that he has lost his confidence. Sekera has only 3 goals in 63 games and a -16 rating.

-The loss snapped a 3 game win streak for the Sabres, and they are 4-4-2 in their last 10.

-In the previous game against the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo native and Sabres tough guy, Patrick Kaleta suffered a minor concussion when he was boarded by Maxim Lapierre. He was cleared to play against the Thrashers.

 

-Ilya Kovalchuk has 20 goals in his last 21 games for Atlanta.

-Thomas Vanek has 19 power play goals this season. He is tied for 1st in the league in that category alongside Calgary’s Mike Cammalleri. Vanek has scored 64 ppg in his young career.

-Ryan Miller is 8-3-2 in his last 13 games with a 2.52 GAA and 2 shutouts.

The Final Word

While the Sabres still have a shot to make the post season, this loss has made it a bleak shot at best. Buffalo is still Sabres Thrashers Hockeyranked 10th in the East, and the fact that they couldn’t defeat the 13th ranked Thrashers isn’t a good sign. The Sabres remaining opponents rank 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 11th in the East and 2nd in the West. Needless to say, it’s an uphill climb for Buffalo to usurp the coveted 8th seeding. Here is how the Eastern Conference standings currently look:
  1. Boston Bruins (108 points/6 games remaining/clinched division)
  2. Washington Capitals (101/5/clinched playoff spot)
  3. New Jersey Devils (98/5/clinched playoff spot)
  4.  Philadelphia Flyers (92/6)
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins (92/5)
  6. Carolina Hurricanes (91/5)
  7. New York Rangers (89/5)
  8. Montreal Canadiens (88/6)
  • In the Hunt: Florida Panther (87/5), Buffalo Sabres (83/6)

Next up the Sabres go on the road to face the Washington Capitals. Then they take on the New Jersey Devils and the Detroit Red Wings at the HSBC Arena. The regular NHL season has only 11 days remaining, and the Sabres have 6 chances to gain ground in the standings. If Buffalo hopes to play hockey beyond April 11th, they’ll need the teams in front of them to lose a few games in addition to their need to probably win out the remainder of the season… Yikes.


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