Panthers Sabres HockeyBoth the Buffalo Sabres and the Florida Panthers entered the HSBC Arena last night ice cold and desperately in need of two points to stay in the tightly contested Eastern Conference playoff race. To start the third period, the Sabres found themselves down 3-1, but managed 3 goals in a 2:07 span, rallying to defeat Florida by a final score of 5-3. “We had to be desperate. This is that time of year,” said Buffalo Sabre, Jason Pominville. 

After being booed by their fans throughout the first two periods, the Sabres desperate play was eerily reminiscent to the comeback Buffalo made against the Tampa Bay Lightning just over a year ago. Check out these freaky comparisons:

  • On March 19, 2008 at the HSBC Arena, the Sabres were down 4-1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. With 15 minutes to play in the third period, Buffalo rallied to defeat Tampa 7-4. On March 25, 2009 at the HSBC Arena, the Sabres were down 3-1 against the Florida Panthers. With just under 14 minutes to play in the third period, Buffalo rallied to defeat Florida 5-3.
  • These victories are just over 1 year apart. 
  • Both rallies came within 1 minute of each other in game time.
  • In both games, the Sabres needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
  • Jason Pominville set up both comebacks, scoring twice in the Tampa game, and once with two assists in the Florida game.
  • Both contests were at the HSBC Arena and against teams from the state of Florida.
  • In both games the fans booed the Sabres off the ice.
  • In the third period Buffalo out shot Tampa 16-4, and Florida 21-9.
  • The win against Tampa put Buffalo in 9th place with 81 points. With the win against Florida, Buffalo remains in 10th place with 78 points.
  • At the time in 2008, the Toronto Maple Loafs were 5 points behind the Sabres. Currently, the Loafs are only 3 points behind Buffalo.

Weird, eh?

Game Summary

Before the game, Panthers right winger, Radek Dvorak was quoted as saying, “I have a good feeling that good things are going to happen.”

Oops.

Trade deadline acquisition, goalie Mikael Tellqvist, made his first home start for the Sabres stopping 30 shots in the win. Opposing goaltender, Tomas Vokoun made 40 saves for the Panthers. On only their third shot of the game, Florida went up 1-0 by an ugly goal from Brett McLean. In his 799th career game, Sabres Captain, Craig Rivet scored on the power play Panthers Sabres Hockeywith 15 seconds remaining in the opening frame for his 2nd of the season. Richard Zednik (the guy who had his throat slit open at HSBC Arena a little over a year ago) scored the go ahead goal for Florida with just over five minutes to play in the second. Michael Frolik scored on a trickling puck to put the Panthers up 3-1 early in the third period. Then came the 2 minute onslaught by the Sabres. The comeback began as Jason Pominville responded to Frolik’s goal, scoring his 16th of the year and putting Buffalo within one. Clarke MacArthur tied it up on a slap shot and then Tim Connolly scored the game winner on the power play, making the score 4-3. The goals were MacArthur’s and Connolly’s 14th of the season. Maxim Afinogenov scored the empty netter (his 5th), making the final 5-3 Buffalo. Max’s goal triggered a bum rush from Nathan Horton and company, going after Max in a childish fit of frustration.

Fast Facts

-The Sabres had only 1 power play goal in their previous 6 games, going 1 for 26. Last night they were 2 for 5. The Panthers were 0 for 2.

-Florida didn’t get their first shot on goal until 7 minutes into the game. The Sabres had already tallied 4. 

-Before last night, the Panthers were 21-9-4 when they scored first. The Sabres have won 3 straight and 5 of the last 6 against them.

-History dictates that the City of Buffalo hasn’t been kind to the Panthers or Richard Zednik. Florida is 7-19-2 with 3 ties at HSBC all time (including this game). Despite scoring a goal, Zednik shed blood onto Buffalo’s home ice for the second year in a row (both times from friendly fire). In this instance, however, the injury was far less severe, as teammate Cory Stillman’s shot struck Zednik in the right side of his face shield. He was cut across the nose and quickly made his way to the locker room. Zednik returned to the bench a few minutes later though, 84-sabres_game_sports_panthers_at_sabres_004standaloneprod_affiliate501seemingly in good health. The injury creepily took place right near the spot where his throat was cut open just over a year ago.

 

-Drew Stafford is in the midst of a really bad slump, scoring only 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 14 games.

-Although Afinogenov scored the empty netter and put out some tough shifts alongside Danielle Paille and Dominic Moore, the forward seemed to revert to his old ways (of turning the puck over) a handful of times last night. At one point, Max was out for a lengthy 2:04 shift. Upon returning to the bench, head coach Lindy Ruff chewed him out for the move.

-Buffalo color guy, Harry Neale had the quote of the season when he said that Buffalo was trapped in their own end “like pregnant foxes in a forest fire.” I’m not sure if that’s hilarious, ridiculous, or terrible… probably all of the above.

The Final Word

With the win, the Sabres improve to 35-30-8 on the year, but continue to be locked in 10th place. Here is how the Eastern Conference is looking:

  1. Boston Bruins (102 points/73 games played/clinched the NE Division)
  2. New Jersey Devils (97/73/clinched playoff birth)
  3. Washington Capitals (97/75/clinched playoff birth)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (90/72)
  5. Carolina Panthers (89/76)
  6. Pittsburgh Penguins (88/75)
  7. New York Rangers (86/74)
  8. Montreal Canadiens (83/73)
  • In the Hunt: Florida Panthers (81/74), Buffalo Sabres (78/73), Toronto Maple Loafs (75/74), Ottawa Senators (74/73)

Panthers Sabres HockeyIt’s easy to see that the final five spots are still up for grabs. Any team can begin to slump while another goes on a playoff propelling win streak. Hopefully, the latter is the route the Sabres can take as they are expecting starting goaltender Ryan Miller to return for Friday’s match-up against the Maple Loafs at home. Miller has stated that his ankle is, “as good as it’s going to get.” Buffalo has gone 4-7-2 without him between the pipes, and with only 9 games remaining in the season, they can’t afford another losing streak. After Toronto, Buffalo takes on the Montreal Canadiens and the Atlanta Thrashers on the road.

One year ago, the Sabres mounted an electrifying comeback against the Tampa Bay Lightning to keep their playoff hopes alive. After that victory, however, the Sabres dropped 2 straight, and went 4-3-1 to close out the season. They missed the playoffs by 4 points, finishing in 10th place.

Hopefully, history won’t be repeating itself.


1288506This was a tragic and bizarre week for the Buffalo Sabres who went 1-2 in games at home against the Ottawa Senators, the San Jose Sharks, and the Carolina Hurricanes. Wednesday night the Sabres put on an uninspired performance, playing incredibly soft in their own end, and deservedly losing to Ottawa. Then on Thursday night, Continental Flight 3407 crashed into a Clarence residents home, killing 50. Clarence, a suburb of Buffalo, is home to many Sabres players including defenceman Teppo Numminen, back up goalie Patrick Lalime, and head coach Lindy Ruff. In the face of tragedy, the Sabres had to gather their mettle and prepare for battle on Friday night. In one of the darkest times in Western New York history, the Sabres put on a show that allowed Buffalonians a brief distraction from the crash, as they defeated the Western Conference leading San Jose Sharks 6-5 in a shootout. It was an emotional game for fans and players alike. Unfortunately, that joyous performance was followed up with another lazy effort from the Sabres, as they were shut out in a loss against Carolina on Sunday.

SENATORS vs SABRES   2/11/09

With team leading scorer Thomas Vanek out a month with a fractured jaw, Lindy Ruff needed to make some moves to inspire his team offensively. At the time, Lindy was faced with some serious scoring droughts from players he needed to produce: Ales Kotalik (3 goals in 27 games), Jochen Hecht (3 goals in 27 games), Jason Pominville (0 goals in 16games), Clarke MacArthur (1 goal in 16 games), and Danielle Paille (3 goals in 39 games). As a result, Ruff shuffled the lines and benched Paille while calling up Nathan Gerbe from the Portland Pirates. The strategy was to generate more offensive opportunities against the Ottawa Senators.

His plan didn’t work as the Sabres fell 3-1 to their division rival.  

Jaroslav Spacek joylessly celebrated his 35th birthday as Ales Kotalik netted the Sabres lone goal of the game. It came on a 5 on 3 opportunity early in the 3rd period. Other than that, it was all Ottawa. Jason Spezza scored the first goal of the Senators Sabres Hockeygame, outworking Buffalo defenceman Tony Lydman, six minutes in on the power play. Ottawa nearly went up by two when Chris Kelly scored, but the goal was disallowed as an interference penalty was called on Jarkko Ruutu. It didn’t matter though as Shean Donovan got one in off the goal post to put his team up 2-0. Daniel Alfredsson ended the scoring for Ottawa about half way through the second period, making the score 3-0.

Thomas Vanek, the league leader in power play goals with 15, was severely missed in this game. The Sabres had 12 power play opportunities (the most by any team this season) but managed to score only once on 22 shots. Jason Smith of the Senators had a triple minor for roughing and a 10 minute misconduct for hitting Pat Kaleta from behind, yet his 16 minutes of box time wasn’t enough for the Sabres to take advantage. Lindy Ruff couldn’t have put it better in the post game press conference, “It’s a step back. You can’t be happy with that.”

The fans were definitely unhappy. The “Lets go Buffalo” chant couldn’t be heard until just over three minutes into the third period, and the Sabres were deservedly bombarded with boos as they made their way to the locker room. Ryan Miller looked shaky in net as he only faced 23 shots and let in 3 against the NHL’s third worst team. The Sabres put 32 shots on Ottawa goalie, Brian Elliot, who stopped 31. Rob Ray summed the Sabres play up nicely:

“They’ve been standing on the corner being pretty boys.” 

SHARKS vs SABRES   2/13/09

The Buffalo Sabres achieved their most emotional win in franchise history on Friday against the San Jose Sharks. Due to the crash of Continental Flight 3407, the NHL gave the Sabres organization an option of postponing the game to a later date. The Sabres graciously declined, deeming that the team could better serve their community by offering to take people’s minds off of Sharks Sabres Hockeythe crash, if even for only a handful of hours. The tragic event rightfully overshadowed Sabres captain, Craig Rivet’s first time squaring off against his former team since being traded to Buffalo in the off season. Rivet was vocal about the crash to the Buffalo media prior to the game:

“If we can come here tonight and just put in the work, do our best, and get that win. Hopefully it will take some discomfort off of the people involved. If we can do anything to help, we’re certainly going to try.”

Rivet indeed helped propel the Sabres to a 6-5 shootout victory over the Western Conference leading Sharks. Rivet logged the most ice time at 24:46 and had 3 assists on the night, the most important of which came with just seconds left in the game; He ripped a shot off from the point and Jason Pominville got his stick on it to tap it home with 3.9 seconds left on the clock, tying the game at 5-5. To quote Buffalo play-by-play guy, Rick Jeanneret, “Gloom and doom is now glee and joy!” The tying goal earned the Sabres a standing ovation who at one time led the game 3-0 and 4-1. The goal was the perfect time for Pominville to end a 16 game scoring draught. 

The Sabres got off to a hot start scoring three times in under fifteen minutes: Adam Mair scored his 7th of the season as he deflected in a shot from Rivet, on the power play Jaroslav Spacek got his 4th, and Derek Roy netted his 20th on a Sharks Sabres Hockeysweet wrist shot at the tail end of a power play. With under two minutes left in the first, Patrick Marleau scored with the man advantage to get the Sharks on the board, 3-1. About half way through the second, the Sabre special teams get it done again as Ales Kotalik scored his 12th of the season, putting Buffalo up 4-1. Ryan Miller stopped former Sabre, Mike Grier on a breakaway chance before things started to go San Jose’s way. The Sharks scored three in a row: Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle in the second, and a power play goal in the third from Devin Setoguchi tied the  game at 4-4. With just under ten minutes left in the third period, Craig Rivet was called for a bogus high sticking penalty. The penalty cost the Sabres a goal as Andrej Sekera lost his stick and Joe Pavelski punched it by Miller to give San Jose the lead, 5-4. With 3.9 seconds left to play in the third, Rivet made up for it with his clutch shot from the point that Pominville tipped home, sending the game to OT. 

The Sabres and Sharks managed to each get 35 shots on goal in regulation and OT. Ryan Miller and Evgeni Nabokov Sharks Sabres Hockeystood tall in the shootout as both goalies stopped their first three shooters. Jason Pominville scored first to put Buffalo ahead, but Miller couldn’t get the win quite yet, as he let in a shot from Patrick Marleau (again) to tie up the shootout. Derek Roy then scored the go ahead shootout goal, and Miller stuffed Milan Michalek for the emotional Sabre win! HSBC Arena went nuts. To quote WGR550 reporter, Paul Hamilton:

“It seemed like that building was maybe the loudest I’ve heard it since the playoffs.”

Indeed it was, as 19,000 plus people witnessed their team put forth a gutsy effort, giving Buffalonians something to cheer about in the face of tragedy.

HURRICANES vs SABRES   2/15/09

After such an exciting game the Sabres were unable to respond, putting forth another lazy effort in front of their home crowd as they lost 3-0 to the Carolina Hurricanes. The game was an opportunity for Buffalo to gain some distance in the standings between themselves and the teams looking for a playoff spot. That didn’t happen, as the Sabres offense was shut down for the second time in three games. 

Essentially, the Sabres stuck it to their goalies with their weak play. Eric Staal got the ball rolling for Carolina, scoring with just over nine minutes into the game on the power play. Staal then earned the assist off of a Chad LaRose goal who punched in his own rebound, putting his team up 2-0. As a mercy move, Sabre head coach Lindy Ruff pulled Ryan Miller from net after Hurricanes Sabres Hockeythe first period. He let in 2 goals on 18 shots. Patrick Lalime stepped in to replace him, and had a solid outing. He stopped 26 shots before Sergei Samsonov knocked in his own rebound with just over two minutes left to play, putting the Hurricanes up 3-0. The score wouldn’t change again as Cam Ward stopped all 36 Buffalo shots. The Hurricanes managed a total of 47 shots on goal, and Lalime made 28 saves in his relief performance. 

“It’s a tough situation for our goaltenders when we’re leaving them out to dry like that. It’s disrespectful to those guys behind us,” said Sabre team captain Craig Rivet. He’s right, it is disrespectful to the goalies to play sloppy and make lazy plays. It’s even more disrespectful to the fans, forcing them to watch a pathetic performance from their hockey club against a rival squad.

Pathetic. 

Quick Hits

  • Top Duelers of the Week:     #1 Craig Rivet    #2 Ryan Miller    #3 Derek Roy
  • Dull Sabre of the Week: Tim Connolly. After scoring 5 goals and 9 assists in 12 games, Connolly has had 1 assist and 0 goals in the last three.
  • Sabres that Need Sharpening: Ales Kotalik and Jochen Hecht. While Kotalik is a clutch shootout scorer and a decent special teamer, he needs to improve his defensive play. Silly penalties and lazy stick checks result in goals for the other team. Jochen Hecht had 22 goals last season, but finds himself with only 6 this year. The fewest goals he has ever scored was 0 in the 98-99 season (Oilers), but he only played in three games. Since then his worst season was in 02-03 (Sabres) where he managed to score only 10 goals. He is on pace to have the worst season of his NHL career. 
  • Broken Blades: Thomas Vanek/fractured jaw/3-4 weeks, Paul Gaustad/upper body/day to day, Henrik Tallinder/right shoulder/day to day, Maxim Afinogenov/groin/day to day.Hurricanes Sabres Hockey
  • The Sabres are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games.
  • Derek Roy has 100 career goals and Drew Stafford has 100 career points.
  • Ales Kotalik has 6 shootout goals this season, and is the first NHL player to obtain 10 game winning shootout goals in his career. For the time being it’s an NHL record.
  • Andrej Sekera returned from injury against San Jose, so Mike Weber was sent back to Portland.
  • The Sabres organization has announced that ticket prices will go up an average of 5% next year for non- season ticket holders.
  • The Sabres are 19-1-4 when leading after two.
  • Miller is 7-2 this year in shootouts.
  • The plane that crashed into Clarence happened one day after the year anniversary of Florida Panther’s player, Richard Zednik, slitting his throat open in a game at Buffalo.
  • For the San Jose game, defenceman/makeshift forward, Nathan Paetsch was scratched in favor of Danielle Paille.
  • San Jose is now 10-2-3 against the East this season.

The Final Word

The Sabres lost ground this week as they slip to 8th place in the Eastern Conference with 64 points. Here are the Eastern Conference standings:

  1. Boston Bruins (86 points)
  2. New Jersey Devils (77)
  3. Washington Capitals (77)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (69)
  5. Montreal Canadiens (66)
  6. New York Rangers (66)
  7. Florida Panthers (64)
  8. Buffalo Sabres (64)

On the outside looking in for that final playoff spot are the Carolina Hurricanes (61), Pittsburgh Penguins (59), and Toronto Maple Leafs (52).

45059401Buffalo has a tough week coming up playing three  games in five nights. Next, the Sabres travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs on Tuesday,  and then go to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers on Thursday. The Sabres close out the week against the New York Rangers at HSBC Arena on Saturday. Buffalo needs to come away at with at least four points in these games, or they will find themselves out of playoff contention. 

For Sabre interviews following the crash of Continental Flight 3407, click here.

For more info on the crash visit www.buffalonews.com.

Thanks to NHL.com and WGR550.com for providing statistics.