Sabres Maple Leafs HockeyThe Buffalo Sabres live to fight another day as they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs last night 3-1 at the Air Canada Centre. Ryan Miller stood tall in the win and Thomas Vanek scored the game winner as Buffalo prepares to face off against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight in Raleigh. While they still need the stars to align to obtain a post season birth, the win improves Buffalo’s season record to 39-32-9.

Game Summary

Long time veteran Curtis Joseph was given the start in net for Toronto. This was a surprising move considering the last time Joseph faced Buffalo he let in 4 goals on 9 shots. To boot, Toronto’s other goalie, Martin Gerber is 4-0-2 in his last 6 starts against the Sabres. Regardless, Joseph got the nod and looked good to begin the game as he held Buffalo scoreless throughout the first period. The same can’t be said for Sabres goalie, Ryan Miller, who was the victim of his teams inability to clear the puck out of their own end as Jeff Finger got Toronto on the board first, 1-0.

Tim Connolly got the Sabres off to a hot start to open the second period with two great chances, but was denied by Joseph. Then the Sabres went on the power play and Jason Pominville found the back of the net (his 18th) while Joseph was being screened by Paul Gaustad. 

The Sabres would continue their scoring ways with 11:52 to play in the third period as Thomas Vanek netted his 38th of the year, freezing Joseph and sliding the puck in behind him. 26 seconds later, Gaustad made a nifty move to give the Sabres insurance on their lead (his 12th), making the final score 3-1 Buffalo.

Sabres Maple Leafs HockeyRyan Miller made 32 saves while Joseph made only 26. Buffalo went 1 for 2 on the power play, while the Maple Loafs went 0 for 6.

Game Analysis

Ryan Miller needs to be credited for keeping his team in this game. Both the Sabres and the Leafs were waiting for the other club to take control, as neither went on a consistent attack during the contest. This was frustrating from the viewpoint of a Sabres fan, considering the Loafs had played the night before in New Jersey. Reminiscent of how the Sabres failed to take advantage of this against Detroit, the post game discussion would have been different if not for Miller’s strong play between the pipes. 

Thomas Vanek had a breakaway chance about half way through the second period, but he failed to pull the trigger and got checked. He seems to do this a lot. Just shoot the puck Vanek!

The match up marked ex-Buffalo Sabre turned Maple Loaf, Brad May‘s 1,000th career NHL game. Before the game, a drawn out ceremony was held in his honor and to be blunt, it was really weird. To begin the ceremony, a video was played of May’s first game as a Sabre. Then Buffalo color guy, Rick Jeanerette’s voice boomed throughout the Air Canada Centre as a video clip was shown of the famous ‘May Day!’ goal. This was followed by a video of him hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. The weirdness continued as Rob Ray walked onto the ice and presented his former teammate with a framed photo of the ‘May Day’ goal, wearing an expression that screamed “I don’t want to be doing this right now.” Considering the fact that this whole thing went down in Toronto, and May has played 425 games with the Sabres and only 37 with the Loafs, made the Sabres Maple Leafs Hockeyentire ceremony seem out of place and lacking energy. How excited can Loaf fans get for a guy who hasn’t played half a season with Toronto and spent most of his career with the enemy? Anyway, May becomes the 21st Toronto Maple Loaf to play in 1,000 games. Good for Brad May… the turncoat. 

Another Toronto player reached an NHL milestone last night, as Curtis Joseph tied Gump Worsley for the most losses in NHL history with 352. Said Joseph after the game, “I’ve got lots of memories. Playoffs mostly. Playoffs are the ultimate. That’s where everything is on the line. A lot of playoff games with the Maple Leafs. A lot of chances and a lot of almosts.” To be fair, he is also fourth on the NHL all time victory list with 454. In the end though, Joseph is just one big loser.

Fast Facts

-The Sabres have outscored the Loafs 21-6 in 6 games this season. Buffalo has racked up 5 straight wins against the Loafs, since dropping their first contest of the year against them on December 12. Buffalo has also won 10 of their last 12 games at the Air Canada Centre. Take that Toronto.

-Ryan Miller is 5-1-0 with a 1.40 GAA and a shutout against Toronto this year. 

-Curtis Joseph is 16-8-4 against Buffalo in his career.

-Against the Loafs this season, Jason Pominville has 9 points, Drew Stafford has 8, and Thomas Vanek has 4 goals and 3 assists. 

-The last Buffalo Sabre to play in 1,000 games was James Patrick. He is only the 9th player to do so in a Buffalo sweater. 

-This game was the 2nd in 15 where Buffalo allowed fewer than 3 goals.

The Final Word

While the Sabres aren’t out of the playoff race, their post season dreams hang by a thread. Here is what needs to happen if Sabres Maple Leafs HockeyBuffalo hopes to play hockey beyond this week:

  1. Win their remaining two games (against Carolina and Boston).
  2. The New York Rangers need to lose their remaining two games in regulation (both against Philadelphia).
  3. The Florida Panthers need to lose one of their remaining two games in regulation (against Atlanta and Washington).

Is it impossible? No, but Buffalo doesn’t control their own destiny and that is one of the worst feelings in professional sports. Here is how the Eastern Conference standings currently look:

  1. Boston Bruins (112 points/3 games remaining/clinched the Conference)
  2. Washington Capitals (106/2/clinched division)
  3. New Jersey Devils (102/2/clinched playoff spot)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (97/3/clinched playoff spot)
  5. Carolina Hurricanes (97/2/clinched playoff spot)
  6. Pittsburgh Penguins (95/2/clinched playoff spot)
  7. Montreal Canadiens (92/2)
  8. New York Rangers (91/2)
  • In the Hunt: Florida Panthers (89/2), Buffalo Sabres (87/2)

The Sabres take on the red hot Carolina Hurricanes tonight who have won 9 in a row. The game is in Raleigh at the RBC Center where Buffalo has a history of being treated as less than welcomed guests. Despite losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals there in 2006, the RBC staff is known for playing mind games with the Sabres; showing footage of Buffalo Bills great, Jim Kelly saying “Let’s go Canes” even though he is referencing his alma mater, the Miami Hurricanes, and flashing such things across the jumbo-tron that read, “As part of President Obama’s stimulus plan, America has offered Buffalo to Canada. Canada politely refused,” according to The Buffalo News.

Here’s to hoping the Sabres can stick it to the Hurricanes one last time in the 2008-2009 season!


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