So far, so good. The Sabres, currently in a situation that I believed would require a 3 of 3 performance this week, is now on the verge of coming to fruition. A win tonight and Buffalo will reclaim their long held playoff spot among the top 8 in the Eastern Conference.
What a wild race it is in the East.Â The Sabres, currently sitting at 9th in the standings, are a mere 2-points out of #5.Â It's going to come down to the wire, and it's also why I seemingly made a mountain out of a molehill when Buffalo dropped games early in the season against teams they should have been winning against.Â And tonight, they'll be facing a similar challenge against one of those teams that has beenÂ putting them to the ropes for going on 2-years now – the Ottawa Senators.
Nevertheless, there was a game last night that warrants at least some discussion.Â The Sabres, for the 2nd straight game, took care of business in a must win situation.Â While Dominic Moore was taking much of the spotlight while playing in his first game as a Sabre after being acquired Wednesday as the trade deadline neared its close, it was Tim Connolly that stole the show.Â Connolly, who re-signed with the team the same day Moore was plucked from Toronto, was simply dominant.Â He proved that if concerns about his health can be put aside for now, there isÂ no reason to beÂ worried about the $9-million Regier and company forked over to keep him.Â
There was nothing the playmaking center didn't do.Â He deflected a shot for a goal, single-handedly stole a puck, drove to the net, took a hit, and scooped in a rebound for another, added an assist by winning a face-off as clean as can be, and tacked on another to boot.Â TC also led the team in shots with 6, and relatively speaking, was very good in the face-off circle, winning 50% of his 14-draws.Â
Although Connolly led the way individually, the team was once again stellar in their efforts on special teams.Â The power play was a jaw dropping 3-for-4, and the penalty killing was near perfect killing 5 of 6.Â It's the reason top seeds make a quick exit in the playoffs, and why lower seeds often make Cinderella runs.Â If your special teams are firing on all cylinders, there's no telling what you can do if you are able to make it to the dance.
1)Tim Connolly – Again, “simply dominant”.
2)Patrick Lalime – I really must admit that I never expected the Buffalo netminder to be as terrific as he has been.Â That said, I'm thrilled with what I've seen, and his brilliance was on display onceÂ again last night.Â Lalime stopped 29 of 30-shots, and made a number of “huge” saves at key times in the hockey game.Â It never ceases to amaze me how even a lopsided score could have done a complete 180 if even one shot had gone in early in the game.Â It's now 4-straight games with 2-goals or less for #40.
3)Jochen Hecht – That was the Hecht of old.Â The struggling forward was very strong last night, particularly in his own end, and while his team was down a man.Â Hecht was also deceptively good in the offensive zone, ending the game with 5-shots, good for 2nd on the team.Â If we can expect this type of performance from him going forward, I don't think many fans would beÂ as upsetÂ about his lack of production.
-To make room for the incoming Dominic Moore, Clarke MacArthur got the night off.
-Jason Pominville FINALLY got on the board last night, scoring his first goal in 9-games, and only his second in 27.
-Toni Lydman's 22:44 led the team in ice-time.
-Both Spacek and Sekera had strong games for the Sabres as well last night, and had Hecht not been so solid, they would have split the 3rd star honors.Â Between the two they registeredÂ 4-points (1+3), and a +4 rating.
-Patrick Kaleta was also noteworthy during last night's contest, as the feisty winger dealt a pair of bone-jarring hits on Phoenix players, both resulting in some discontent among them.
Alright, after the devastating loss to the Isles a week ago, the Sabres are once again in a position to make up for it.Â However, I'm gravely concerned about the scenario as it is presented.Â Buffalo are readying for their 3rd game in 4-nights, and will be playing against a team that seems to have their number.Â That said, there areÂ no excuses for them not to leave Ottawa with 2-points.Â
As the sun rises tomorrow, ourÂ boys will either be in a tie for 5th (minus a game in hand), or all aloneÂ atÂ 10th in the conference.Â Do you now see how important this game is?Â I hope Lindy and company are able to read between those same lines.Â In the meantime…
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Written by Tim Anderson