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Sabres Central

Sens deliver dose of harsh reality
By Rick Anderson
March 19, 2006

Harsh reality was delivered to the Buffalo Sabres on a cold plate Saturday night by the Ottawa Senators. By beating the Sabres 4-2, the Senators taught Buffalo a valuable lesson.

The Sabres have been proud of their accomplishments this season. Back in early November when they lost to the Senators 10-4, they didnít feel they were in the same class with this offensive juggernaut. But slowly the Sabres chipped away at the Senator huge lead in the Northeast Division, producing winning streaks of 4, 6, 7 and 8 games. After they beat the Leafs 3-1 on Thursday, they found themselves a mere 1 point from the division leading Senators.

When the Buffalo players took the ice in Ottawa Saturday evening before a packed house, they seemed to be in complete awe of the Senators, privileged to be on the same ice as the Sens. For the first two periods, this reverence of the Senators clearly showed in the Sabres play as they just stood around and marveled at how wondrous this Senator machine was. Buffalo didnít record its first shot on goal until midway through the first period, or 9:59 to be precise. After the period was over, the scoreboard had the Senators outshooting the Sabres 22-5 and leading 2-0. The Sens took a 3-0 lead early in the final period before Maxim Afinogenov finally broke the shutout bid by Ray Emery.

This clearly was not the team that could come back from all odds and win game after game. The Sabres had complied an 8-game winning streak and looked almost unstoppable, finding various ways to win games recently. That all came to a screeching halt in Ottawa as the Sabres train derailed in the teamís reverence over the magnificent Senators.

"Coming up here, it seems like we get a little too worked up,"acknowledged Chris Drury, "and it shows in the score the first two periods."

The Sabres stood back and let the Senators skate circles around them, allowing them to get a season high 49 shots off on Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. Miller had to be at his very best to prevent yet another double digit Senators game against Buffalo. His 46 saves were astonishing at times and he was the only one who showed up on a night the Sabres had a real chance to overtake the Senators.

"For us it wasn't so much about winning or losing," said Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere. "It's about showing up and proving to ourselves that we belong with the best team in the NHL. We show up with no effort by so many guys, that's just embarrassing. I don't know how to explain it, but there's definitely an issue here that we'll have to resolve before the playoffs start."

Losing to Ottawa the way they did could be a blessing in disguise. The Sabres were starting to believe all the praise they were receiving from their fans and Buffalo media. Certainly, they deserved all of it, however the season isnít over and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is still a long ways off. They have to continue to scratch, claw and fight in order to actually deserve to be on the same ice as teams like the Senators or Hurricanes. Standing back and admiring the greatness of teams like the Senators will be a recipe for a quick exit in the playoffs for the Sabres. They have all the weapons to compete and even beat Ottawa, but they have to play them just like they do every other team and not let the Senatorsí grandeur get into their heads.

Wakeup call

This definitely was a wakeup call for the Sabres. They were asleep at the wheel and it resulted in a car wreck in Ottawa. The story has been the same every time the Sabres have locked horns against the top team in the Northeast Division, except for a lone shootout win a few weeks ago.

Briere was not a happy camper after the game. He saw the same lack of effort from his view as Sabres fans saw on TV in horror Saturday night. Briere let 'er rip after the game and said that he cut into the team big time in the locker room, as did Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.

"I was frustrated with the way we showed up,"fumed Briere after the "embarrassing" loss. "This was supposed to be one of our biggest games and we had way too many passengers. Sometimes you pick up bad habits when you're on a roll (8-game winning streak) like we were, but when you're outworked like that, it's just plain embarrassing. I can't explain it."

The Sabres had cold water splashed in their faces and maybe, just maybe they will realize that they have work as hard game in and game out if they want to go places in the playoffs. Paying reverence to the Senators and bowing down to worship them will ruin all they worked hard for all season.

Ruff not only echoed Briereís thoughts, but he benched Thomas Vanek for the entire third period because he was not happy with his lack of effort.

"It's a pretty common theory ... for 40 minutes, collectively as a group, we had a lot of players that played poorly as a group," Ruff said. "It was a group effort. There wasn't many guys who can stay on the bus. You have to throw them off at different times."

Briere must have gave his teammates a fire and brimstone lecture after the game.

"We know they're the top team in the NHL. For us, it was not so much about winning or losing, but showing that we can play with the best.

"We had no effort from so many guys. So many players were scared to get hit, they'd just throw the puck away. We were not playing like we usually are. The way we played the first 35 or 40 minutes was unacceptable.

"I still believe in our team, but we definitely have some issues to resolve before the playoffs begin."

Meanwhile, the Senators must think the Sabres are a joke. They couldnít believe that Buffalo was only one point from them before the game. They have only seen one good game from them all year and beating them by scores of 5-0, 10-4 and 6-1 makes the Sabres look like pushovers to them.

Daniel Alfredsson has yet to see the "real Sabres."

"We've beat them 10-4, 5-0, 6-1," mentions Alfredsson. "We know they're a good team, but they still had a chance to tie it at the end. We were just the hungrier team."

Miller didnít blast his team like Briere, but you could tell that he was almost in shell shock after getting peppered with nearly 50 rubber bullets shot at him.

''It's tough to get your feet going against this team,'' Miller said after the game. ''We got caught chasing the puck. They're a good team, they got a lot of pucks at the net. We got behind early in the penalties and it threw us off our rhythm.''

Eight game winning streak over

While the streak crashed and burned with the Sabres effort in Ottawa, kudos have to be given to the team for winning 8 straight. They found ways to win that were astonishing. Behind 2-0 last weekend to the Flyers, they came back and scored with 4.6 seconds left in regulation to be Philly 6-5. The following are comments about last weeks games:

Sabres at Flyers: It is amazing the many ways the Sabres have found to win games this year. They have come from behind many occasions and win at the end of games, in overtime or during shootouts. But none were more dramatic than the goal that Mike Grier scored with a mere 4.6 ticks on the clock in Philly.

These Sabres have taken over the Resilient title in Buffalo. The Bills used to own that honor and wear it like a badge of honor. Now that the Bills have sunk pretty low these past 8 years, the Sabres have finally claimed that badge and are wearing it proudly.

Coming back 5 times to beat the Flyers is a huge accomplishment. To score the winning goal with less than 5 seconds remaining it something that you see only in movies. The Sabres Mike Grier lit the red light with 4.6 seconds left in regulation and the Sabres had won their second straight high scoring game, 6-5. Thursday they beat Tampa 8-5. That is 14 goals in two games. With the suddenly porous goaltending of Ryan Miller, they've needed all 14 of those.

Two straight games Ryan Miller was porous in goal. No big deal for the Sabres, who scored 8 and 6 goals respectively in their wins over Tampa Bay and Philly. And these are not pushover teams either. The Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup Champions and it is no easy task to win in Philly in front of their rabid any year.

Sometimes in the past, when the Sabres have scored a ton of goals, they find it very hard to light the lamp the next night out. This team seems different. They are able to score whatever number of goals they need to win. Whether it is 2 goals or 8, the Sabres know that they can come back from being down and do enough to win.

Bruins at Buffalo: The Sabres won their 6th straight game against the Boston Bruins when they came up with a 6-2 win over Boston. Buffalo took a 4-0 lead and looked to be on their way to a romping, but the Bruins made it interesting, scoring late in the second period and then in the first minute of the third. However, the Sabres scored two goals in the final stanza to put the Bears away for good.

Maxim Afinogenov scored on a penalty shot to help the cause and Marty Biron played instead of Ryan Miller, who has been off his game the past couple of games.

Sabres as Washington: The Sabres came from behind to beat the Capitals 6-4 in another shootout. With Miller struggling in goal in this one, allowing 4 goals in the first two periods, but then settled down as the Sabres came from behind. The Sabres were actually behind 3-1 in this game but came back to win late in the game.

Leafs at Buffalo: It was old time hockey in HSBC Arena on Thursday. The Leafs have tried everything to stop the Sabres and nothing worked so far, so they went back to the bane of the NHL, the boring clutch & grab garbage that the league has been trying to rid itself of. Not only were the Leafs clutching and grabbing, they were knocking down everything thing in black in sight. They did it legally and illegally and got away with it.

The NHL officiating has been slowing going back to allowing this dirty style of play to pollute the game. The refs have to take the credit for helping the game get out of its handcuffs and become the gem it can be. However, everyone knew that this was only a temporary thing as the refs have a history of going lax on calling an honest game by the books.

The Leafs hoped that the refs would look the other way when they employed their planned thuggery and they got what they wanted. While Leafs like Darcy Tucker and Tie Domi were mugging Sabres and not getting a whistle, the Sabres were called for every time they even breathed near a Leaf. In the last 6 minutes of the game, the Sabres were shorthanded 5.5 minutes of it. The refs were going out of their way to give the Leafs an opportunity to tie this one up.

One thing the Leafs didn't count on was the resurgence of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. Miller once again was not able to record his first shutout when Mats Sundin scored a third period power play goal. However, Miller seems to be back to form and he stoned the Leafs time after time during their many power plays late in the game. Miller was named first star after stopping 27 shots.

While the officials on the ice were not calling the Leafs for assaulting  Briere and others left sprawling on the ice, Miller came to the rescue with one of his finest performances of the year.

The Leafs played the perfect game against the Sabres. One thing they didn't count on was a great game from Miller. Miller was back on his game and only allowed 1 goal. With the Leafs storming the Sabres zone most of the game, they could have had 8 goals.
Mike Grier scored the game winner when he got in on Tellqvist and banged home his own rebound. Chris Drury added an emptynetter while the Sabres were shorthanded late in the game.

The Maple Leafs hate coming to Buffalo. It has been that story ever since the early 90s when they were winning at the old Aud. Now days, they dread the short trek across the border and into Buffalo. Thursday night they gave it their all and it still wasn't good enough as the Sabres find many different ways of winning. If the game is a wide-open shootout, look for them to score between 6 and 8 goals to win. Make it a 1-1 tie deep into the third period and they will capitalize like they did when Mike Grier broke in alone to score the game winner.


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