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Sabres Central

Sabres break Senators curse
By Rick Anderson
April 9, 2006
Tim Connolly gets congrats from Maxim Afinogenov after scoring the first of two goals against the Senators in a 6-2 win over Ottawa. Senators goalie Ray Emery is face down on the ice and was pulled in the second period.
[AP Photo/Jonathan Hayward]

It took a whole season, but the Sabres have finally gotten the huge gorillia called the Senators off their backs. Nightmare images of that hellish 10-4 loss the Sens handed the Sabres back in early November will probably never die, but the Sabres no longer feel that the Sens are Supermen that are on a different plane than them.

By beating the Senators 6-2 in Ottawa, the Sabres take another step in their evolution from a inexperienced youthful team to one that will have to be reckoned with in the post season. The Sabres have had a serious issue with confidence since the Olympic break, but these two straight wins over their main Northeast rivals will go a long ways in boosting their morale.

The Sabres got goals from Tim Connolly, who had a pair, along with goals from Chris Drury, Taylor Pyatt, Jay McKee and Dmitri Kalinin . Connolly has been hot since he came back from his injury, scoring against the Flyers and then two more in Ottawa.

The Sabres chased Ray Emery after they got 4 past him in two periods as the Sens put in Mike Morrison, who made 7 saves on 9 shots.

"I didn't think I made any huge mistakes," defended Emery. "When things aren't going in your favor you've got to do anything you can to change that."

Meanwhile, Ryan Miller didnít allow an early goal to put the Sabres in a hole.

"I liked the way he played the game," lauded Ruff. "He really had a sound game. I'm getting happy with where the team's at right now."

Miller was probably surprised he got the start, especially after allowing some soft goals the night before against the Flyers.

"What's good about this is the other times we've played here we've been intimidated and let them dictate play," put in. "We did a good job tonight of sticking to the system."

Sens bubble burst

Finally, the Senators have come back down to earth. After dominating the entire league for most of the season, injuries and the fact that teams do not fear them like they did earlier, may be a factor in the Sens 3 game losing streak. Sloppy play and probably the long season have something to do with it also.

Meanwhile, the Sabres are glad to finally break the Senator hex over them. The other two wins were in a shootout and an overtime win (on Wednesday), but there is nothing better than winning outright in regulation...and by a 4 point margin also.

"We tried to make the simple plays, which is what we have to do right now, but we didn't do it too, too often," reflected Senators center Jason Spezza. "We're not playing our best hockey right now. It's never good to lose hockey games, but maybe this will be a wakeup call for the playoffs."

Sens coach Bryan Murray saw things go awry right from the start.

"Everything caught up with us tonight," said Murray. "Nobody was going to rally the troops tonight. We're giving up more goals and chances than we did all year. It's disappointing because our stats were so good. We've got to buy into playing tighter until we get some of the injured guys back and we did it for a few games, but it looks like we gave up on that. We've been playing from behind and that's difficult to do."

The Senators are still tied for first overall in the Eastern Conference with the Carolina Hurricanes, both with 108 points.

Excuses

The Senators are looking for excuses. They have plenty. Saturday they were without the services of Dominik Hasek, and three defensemen Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden and Chris Phillips, along with forward Martin Havlat. All the Sabres can say is "Join the club!" The Sabres haven't had a full crew since opening night. All season long, Buffalo has been hampered with serious and long term injuries to their key players. As soon as one finally gets back into the lineup, two others go on injured reserve.

The Sabres have had to deal with it and have become a stronger team because of it. The Sens, meanwhile, have to learn how to fill the holes like the Sabres have been able to. Not having Chara in the lineup is huge, no pun intended. Hasek appears ready to try a comeback soon and the other players will most likely be ready by playoff time.

The Sabres are no along in awe of the Senators. In fact, maybe the Sabres earned a little respect from the Sens and their fans Saturday night after they trounced the Senators 6-2. It was a prime-time Hockey Night in Canada feature and the Sens didn't look too good in front of the the sold out house and on national TV.

The Sabres now have to contend with the red-hot Montreal Canadiens, who come to Buffalo on Wednesday. The Sabres get a well-deserved 3 days off before then.

Sabres vs Leafs (Game 1 and 2)

The back-to-back games in Toronto were tough on the Sabres. Not only did they lose the first one, 7-0 last Saturday in front of a nationally-televised Hockey Night in Canada audience, but they embarrassed themselves by dead giveaways and other mistakes.

The other week, my article on this site started out with one word: Desperation.
Their performance last Saturday against the Leafs can be described with another word: Complacency. That's exactly what had taken over the Sabres like a disease. This team found itself playing like one of the players the Sabres let go last summer, Miroslav Satan. Satan was a perfect example of complacency. That's one of the reasons the Sabres let him walk without any compensation. The feeling was that he was a cancer to the locker room. Well, the cancer is still in control and the Sabres better use some extreme measures to extract it immediately.

Losing to the Leafs hasn't been too common for the Sabres the past few years. Losing by such a lopsided score of 7-0 is unheard of.

Teams with a solid chemistry fight their way out of slumps, usually by exploding with something akin to the Leafs 7-0 thrashing over the Sabres. People had been waiting for the Sabres to break out of their slump in similar fashion the past two weeks and are starting to wonder if the team has it in them to actually play respectable hockey any more.

Ruff has more important things to worry about than trying to get the Sabres heads back into the game. His daughter recently had brain surgery for what possibly was a tumor. The team has been morally supporting him, but on the ice they are causing Ruff fits.

Sunday, after his team was embarrassed 7-0 in Toronto, he gave the team a brutal workout that lasted over 90 minutes. He also benched such players as Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Taylor Pyatt, and started Marty Biron in goal for the rematch.

Ruff tried everything to get his Sabres out of their free fall. He went back to some old fashioned basic training camp drills to drive a point home. With the Leafs thrashing the Sabres 7-0, that gave the Sabres a chance for some payback. They were up to the task and came back strong the next game, beating the Leafs 3-2 in a shootout.

However, the Sabres were more concerned about Johcen Hecht, who was taken out by Darcy Tucker.

There are certain players still left in the league that have a reputation for going after a player to take them out. Darcy Tucker is one of them. A couple years ago, he predicted he would take out Michael Peca before a playoff game with the Islanders and did just that...for almost an entire season.

Monday night in Toronto, Tucker was at his meanest again as he deliberately took out one of the Sabres top forwards, Hecht. He went knee-to-knee after he got clobbered by a clean hit by Mike Grier. To make matters worse, the NHL, like has been the policy recently, gave Hecht a penalty for coming down with a high stick after he was knocked down. The same happened to Daniel Briere when he was tripped up and was given a two game suspension.

A player like Tucker deserves to be not only suspended but suspended as long as Hecht is out. Lindy Ruff was certainly fuming after the game.

"Suspend him," Ruff fumed. "Get him out of the game. He went after his head. He took his knee out. I've seen enough of him, it's a joke.

"It's unfortunate we have to be done in on a cheap shot late in the game by Tucker. A knee-on-knee hit. He goes after (Hecht's) head, he dives afterward, he is known as a diver. He couldn't take the hit we gave him, so he knocks our guy out of the lineup for weeks. I want him suspended, I want him fined."

The Sabres clinched a playoff spot with the win over the Leafs, however, losing who some consider their most valuable player put a damper on the celebration.

The talk in Buffalo after that game was not about the Sabres clinching their first playoff berth since 2001. It's about yet another thug incident where a player deliberately goes after another player, knocking him out for the season. Tucker ruined the Sabres celebration when he delivered a triple hit on Sabres star player Hecht. This was a triple play in which Tucker went after Hecht's head with an elbow, went knee-to-knee and then drew a penalty by diving himself.

Lindy Ruff called on the NHL to serve Tucker some justice for his mobster-type hit on Hecht. Hecht was showing his importance to the team in leading the charge on several occasions, coming off a 6-week knee injury. Then Tucker goes for his weak spot and put Hecht on the shelf again, probably until late in the playoffs, if the Sabres make it that far. To make matters worse, the league didnít give Tucker a suspension.

The Sabres were furious when Kasparaitis intentionally injured Tim Connolly earlier this season. But that incident is small potatoes compared to the Tucker hit on Hecht. The Sabres were extremely upset over the inconsistent and blatant issuing of suspensions. Tucker was not suspended over the deliberate attempt to injure Hecht. Meanwhile, three games earlier, Sabres captain Daniel Briere was given an absurd 2-game suspension for accidently hitting Brian Leetch after being tripped up and sent on his back.

The league may be trying to make an example of the Sabres. There seems to be some anger with Lindy Ruff when he protested that infamous "No goal" after game 6 of the 1999 SCF game with the Stars that cost the Sabres that game. Ever since, it appears as if way too many of these decisions (suspensions, goals and no goals reviewed) have gone against Buffalo.

As is to be expected, Tucker claims he did nothing wrong with deliberately trying to injure Hecht. And a criminal will always plead not guilty at his trial.

Tucker doesn't think his hit is anything for the Sabres to get ticked off about, but there is a return date circled on the Sabres calendars, Easter Sunday, April 16. It is being termed as Bloody Easter by some.

"It happens 35 times in a season that you run into a guy and get hurt," Tucker explained. "It's nothing. It's one guy's comments. It's exactly the reaction (Ruff) wanted, for you (media) guys to come in here today and make this a big deal."

"I hit a guy," Tucker went on. "I didn't hit him with my knee. Like I said, I don't think I did anything in the wrong, so for me to comment otherwise goes against everything I believe. Things like that happen. And you know what? To complain and get upset about those things, I find it hard to believe."

Ruff came back and said his piece.

"Intentional blows to the head were deemed something that (the league) wanted to take care of," Ruff shot back. "Maybe Jochen needed to be knocked out. Maybe he needed to lay down on the ice and get carried off, then that's a suspension. I can slow it down and I can show you an elbow that makes contact with the chin and I can show a knee that a foot turns out and goes knee-on-knee.

"And if you're going to go after the guy's head, I would think (Tucker) is upset enough to stick his leg out or know where his leg is going.

Senators at Buffalo

The Sabres had to battle back twice to win this one Wednesday night. The Sens took a 3-1 lead and Buffalo had to forge its way back for a tie. Then in the third, the Sens took what looked like the winning goal. With less than a minute to go, the Sabres pulled Marty Biron for the extra attacker. Daniel Briere was able to tie it up with just 39 seconds left. Then in overtime, Maxim Afinogenov found Briere with a pinpoint pass across the crease and Briere banged it home for the winner. It was as good as it gets during the regular season and the atmosphere definitely had playoff overtones.

This victory over the Senators got a huge monkey off the Sabres backs as the Sens owned the Sabres this season. Winning in Ottawa Saturday got rid of Godzilla for good.

Flyers at Buffalo

While the Sabres appeared close to getting out of their funk with two straight wins, they now seem to be heading in the other direction again.

Once again, Ryan Miller allowed a very early goal against the Flyers and then allowed another soft goal before the 10 minute mark to give the Flyers a commanding 2-0 lead. Miller has been very shaky all season early on in a game. He has constantly put the Sabres in early holes that are hard to climb out of. Once again, Miller was true to form in allowing a goal just 92 seconds in.

In his rookie season thus far, Miller has put the Sabres in an early hole by allowing eight goals within the first five minutes of a game. On top of that, he has been scored on 15 times in the first 10 minutes of a game. This is not good for a team that has to rely on stellar goaltending to get anyplace in the playoffs. The Sabres may have to rely on veteran Marty Biron if they don't want a first round collapse in the post season.

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