It wasn't pretty, and often times it seemed as though the Sabres were hemmed in their own end for minutes at a time, however the blue and gold dug deep inside their flu-ridden bellies, and for the first time in weeks found a way to win a game in which they were outplayed.
The Florida Panthers certainly looked like a team desperately desiring some breathing room, the same breathing room the Sabres couldn't attain when they were in a similar position 3-short weeks ago. Nevertheless, Buffalo played the role of spoiler tonight, and whether or not you believe they still have a legitimate shot at making the post-season, the 2-points they collected clearly puts them back in businessÂ by way of the standings.
The Sabres, although appearing desperate at times, once again lacked the killer instinct for most of the game, particularly late in the 1st and early in the 2nd.Â Despite havingÂ the puck in their own end for the majority of the time, they probably had the better of the scoring chances during that span, and were simply unable to bury the puck.Â Moore had a mini-breakaway in which he failed to cash.Â Pominville opted to blindly throw a puck to the front of theÂ cage instead of burying his head and trying to jam it into the open side while behind the net (can you still tell that he has no confidence?).Â Afinogenov had countless opportunities to score, and either had it stripped, blocked, or stopped by the goaltender.Â And finally, I think I'd like to see Lindy devote an entire practice to working on 3-on-2 rushes, becauseÂ his team'sÂ execution of them has been pathetic virtually all season.Â
Now to some good news, because for as much griping as I'm doing, the Sabres did bring home an imperative 2-points tonight.Â Overall I thought they looked good in their own end in terms of letting Lalime see the shots, giving him the chance to smother them without giving up any rebounds – which he did to near perfection.Â The giveaways were not as prevalent, although Lydman managed to squeeze in his new quota of 2-per game.Â Fortunately however, neither ended up in the back of his net.Â
The forwards were working hard in the Florida end, and although they weren't able toÂ muster much in the way of sustained forechecks, they were forcing the Panthers into errant passes through the neutral zone, which didn't allow their speedy forwards to really get going.Â They also did a nice job of making Vokoun fight to see the shots as they came in, although he was terrific between the pipes tonight, givingÂ me a much clearer picture of why his team is making such a serious push for the playoffs.
Finally, the best news of the night was the play of Patrick Lalime, as he was coming off two pretty shaky performances that I feared may mutilateÂ what little confidence he may have had left.Â The Buffalo netminder turned aside 30-shots, and while his teammates struggledÂ in finding a go-to-guy to score a big goal, he took the onus on himself and made some big saves to preserve the 1-goal lead he had.Â He was cool under pressure, particularly in the 3rd period when the Panthers were coming on strong, and had a 5-on-3 advantage in excess ofÂ one fullÂ minute.Â His best play throughout that sequence was not a save though.Â It came after a shot deflected high into the air directly above him in the crease.Â His collected behavior allowed him to cooly locate the puck, and easily snare it in his catching glove.
1)Patrick Lalime – Enough said.
2)Jaroslav Spacek – He's really making himself a case for sticking around next year, although I'm not sure the Sabres can afford him unless he takes a pay cut.Â The Buffalo d-man gave his team the all-important early lead when he let a shot go from the high slot that somehow found its way to the back of the net.Â Amazing isn't it, what can happen when you hit the net? Â Spacek also added an assist, and had a number of key blocked shots, most notably while his team was down 2-men in the 3rd.Â He rounded outÂ his evening with the 2-points, a +1 rating, and ate up just under 23-minutes of ice time.
3)Paul Gaustad/Henrik TallinderÂ - The goose was Buffalo's best forward tonight in terms of forechecking, defensive responsibility, and penalty killing.Â He was credited with a +1, 2-blocked shots, and won 7 of 13-draws.Â As for big Hank, heÂ was in the simplest terms possible, solid as a rock.Â Aside from his near costly penalty midway through the 3rd, he was their best defensive defenseman, and for the first time all year I felt like I was watching the same guy I rememberedÂ during the '05-'06 season.
-Toni Lydman carried the load in the way of ice time for the Sabres, skating 24:05, and despite his nightly giveaways, he was very strong while his team was shorthanded tonight.
-Even with the addition of Moore, the Sabres still continue to struggle in the face-off circle, losing the overall battle tonight by one.Â Roy was Buffalo's best, winning 11 of 19.
-For the first time in days the Sabres got a little help on the scoreboard, albeit limited.Â Pittsburgh and Montreal both picked up a point in their losses, while the Stars gave Buffalo their biggest boost of the night by holding on to beat the Canes in Dallas.
-While the scoreboard was friendly tonight, the most important game was of course the one played in Buffalo, and beating the Panthers in regulation proves that the Sabres actually are capable of helping themselves.Â My fear however is that they won't be able to maintain that necessary instinct.
Look, I'm in no way throwing a party this evening,Â nor will I goÂ to bed feeling like the Sabres are realistically back in the chase.Â Unquestionably the standings would paint a different picture, but before I begin to believe again, Buffalo will have to prove that they are capable of putting a run of more than 2-games together, and illustrateÂ an ability to play consistent hockey – because that's what it's going to take.
WillÂ they?Â Only time will tell, but I fear that a quick look into the past may help quell your anxiety about the future.Â
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Written by Tim Anderson