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Sabres Eek by Habs in SO

While most Eastern Conference eyes were locked the Sid-Ovi battle on Wednesday night, other matches around the league were shaping up to be equally as intense.  The Sabres-Habs game began in typical Sabres style: they didn’t show up.  Meanwhile the Canadiens came ready to play.  They quickly went up 1-0 in the first minute with Andrei Kostitsyn scoring his first goal in 13 games.  He soon watered that drought further with a power play goal about 5 minutes into the second period.

That power play was part of a string of four penalties on the Sabres that began at the end of the 1st period and continued until half way through the 2nd period.  Less than a week prior to this game Sabres fans witnessed a rare smile from Head Coach Lindy Ruff  following a Jason Pominville hat trick, but there were no glimpses of happiness on Lindy’s face Wednesday night. He was outraged by the repeated penalties, even receiving at least one warning from the officials.  One can speculate that the 4 consecutive Sabres penalties and 5 Canadiens penalties that followed were in part a result of the recent suspensions, and overall crackdown on hits.  While many were legitimate calls, at least one seemed to be a clean hit from the side, while the refs deemed in a hit from behind, to which the league is currently ultrasensitive. Though the Sabres lead the league with their home penalty kill percentage at 90.8%, they were unable to prevent the Habs from mounting an intense offensive and getting one in.  Thanks to this famous penalty kill, however and with some spectacular 2nd and 3rd period play from Ryan Miller, 3 of the 4 penalties went by without a goal from the Habs.  On the other end of the ice, Carey Price was shutting down all attempts that the Sabres did manage, in arguably one of his best games of the season.  Price had something to prove after being benched for 7 games following a less-than-outstanding performance in Anaheim.

Price and Kostitsyn’s powerful games were supported by former Sabre Dominic Moore who won 13/17 faceoffs, and defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron who just returned from an injury and assisted Kostitsyn’s 2nd goal. The Sabres on the other hand, even my usual 6’8 brick wall Tyler Myers, had some holes in their game, though Myers did continue his hot streak with at least one point in each of the past 5 games.  With way too many neutral ice turnovers and the seemingly adopted dump and chase strategy of the 2nd period on the part of Buffalo, the Habs seemed to be dominating at every turn despite the eventual 42 shots mounted by the Sabres.  Many of these came in the streak of Montreal penalties that came starting in the  2nd period and continuing into th 3rd, prompting a loss in momentum for the Canadiens.

Yet for 57 minutes, despite these opportunities, the Sabres were faced with their two weaknesses: scoring on the power play, and more generally, getting the puck in the net.  Ruff has been trying a power play strategy with an entirely offensive line during the power play with his major scorers all on the ice at once, and with less than 3 minutes in the game and a 2-0 loss staring them in the face, it finally paid off.  Miller’s presence was felt both on the ice, and when he was pulled, with a 6-on-4 advantage providing Tim Connolly the chance to get one in the net.  With home ice pressure  and now within one goal, the Sabres continued to pour on heavy pressure in a 6-on-5 game. Finally, with just 48 seconds remaining in the game, defenseman Steve Montador made his biggest goal of the season to take the game into overtime.  While the Sabres still didn’t manage to score again in overtime, even during yet another power play, it was clear they had finally come to the game.

With a scoreless OT, a shootout was at hand.  Ryan Miller continued to play his game, stopping the attempts of both Kostitsyn and Michael Cammalleri, the Canadiens leading goal scorer who is also back from injury after a 17 game hiatus. Thomas Vanek, Buffalo’s leading goal scorer was notably absent throughout the game with only 1 shot in the entire game leading up to the SO, but added to Pominville’s shootout goal with a beautiful snap into the corner over Price’s shoulder to win the game.

While it certainly wasn’t a pretty game for the Sabres, no one will argue that it wasn’t exciting.  While the Habs only grabbed 1 point to cling to their playoff spot (currently ranked 6th in the Eastern Conference, just 2 points ahead of the 8th place Bruins) the Sabres will take points where they can get them and I’ll admit, Sabres fans may be starting to get a little greedy.  Now within just 1 point of the Penguins who have been struggling to get points despite their respectable play, we may be looking at 2nd place in the Eastern Conference.  Assuming they can overcome their weakness against the Sens on Friday (they’ve won just 2 of the past 10 matchups this season), Sabres fans are sure to fill the HSBC arena as the Sabres try to bring the winning streak to 5.

  1. March 25, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Very nice article. Well informed, very insightful, nice to see.

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