Ryan Miller’s 32-save performance against the hard-working Maple Leafs keeps Buffalo on life-support for at least 1-more day.
Despite one of the ugliest, least exciting games of the year, there were two things that stood out for me as the Buffalo Sabres dispatched the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 in last night’s tilt at the ACC. Ryan Miller’s play, albeit very good, was not one of those things however.
For the first time in recent memory, and in a number of goals, Thomas Vanek scored a biggie, and helped put at least some pressure on the idle New York Rangers, who begin a home and home series tonight with the Philadelphia Flyers. Vanek’s goal, one that came halfway through the final stanza, was enough to get his team past perhaps the only team below them in the standings that they’ve had little to no trouble with this season. Moreover, it lit a fire under the team that not only sparked an insurance marker 26-seconds later, but hopefully gave them at least enough hope to play through tonight’s game in Carolina, against the high-flying Canes.
Having already raved about Miller’s play, this may come as a bit of a surprise to you, but the other noticeable aspect of last night’s contest was the strong defensive zone play I saw out of Buffalo’s backline. Of the 33-shots Miller faced, I’d say 90% came from long range, and although he made some big saves on deflections (his best saves of the night really), the high quality shots were few and far between. Chris Butler continues to impress, and I felt he played a very strong game last night for the blue and gold. Jaroslav Spacek continues to produce offensively, as he added 2-assists, and Andrej Sekera appears to be getting his confidence back. I wouldn’t point at any single d-man last night and say that he made a decision that could have potentially hurt his hockey team – and that’s a first!
The gap control was solid, the Toronto forwards were having to work for everything they could get, and nearly 40% of the aforementioned shots were taken while the Leafs enjoyed 6-power play opportunities, all of which were killed by the Sabres. And of course the most important penalty killer on the ice, Ryan Miller, was up for the challenge.
I had a post game piece ready to discuss what went wrong for the Sabres this season, and was prepared to discuss what I feel needs to be remedied this off-season in order to turn things around in Buffalo. However, I’ll be saving that for at least 1-more day, because I couldn’t rightfully discuss what happens next, when what could happen now is still hanging in the balance. It will take a miracle, but as Thomas Vanek said before last night’s tilt (Courtesy WGR550 radio), “Teams have won 3 in a row before, and teams have lost 2 in a row before…it happens.”
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Written by Tim Anderson