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Sabres Central

Druryís late goal sparks another Herculean comeback

By Rick Anderson
May 5, 2007
Chris Drury saves the day! His goal with 7.7 seconds left forced overtime.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

Heart Attack Arena. That's what HSBC Arena should be named after this season.

The Sabres are the cardiac kids and are living on the very edge, giving their fans excessive stress with their late game dramatics.

The Sabres once again flirted with disaster, waiting until the very end to score their first goal of the game and force overtime. A whirlwind goal by Chris Drury with only 7.7 seconds left in regulation forced overtime. Then, in equally dramatic fashion, Maxim Afinogenov scored a powerplay goal 4:39 into overtime to beat the New York Rangers 2-1. After that heart-stopping action, many fans were considering checking into the nearest hospital for treatment. How many times can their poor hearts go through so much stress?

With the series tied at 2-2, the Sabres and Rangers battled through a scoreless affair until just over 3 minutes to go. Thatís when the Sabres and their fans had their hearts broken. It was apparent that the first goal would most likely be the game winner. With 3:17 left on the clock, Martin Strakaís long shot got through traffic and clanked off the camera inside goal. Video replay confirmed that the puck hit the camera dead on and it kept on ticking.

Finally, after once again not showing the desperation needed to win a game, the Sabres woke up. This was a game that most certainly would bring the intensity that the team has been lacking thus far in the playoffs, but Henrik Lundqvist thwarted them on every shot. With Strakaís goal, all seemed lost. How would the Sabres finally crack his impenetrable shell of iron?

With Ryan Miller pulled for the extra attacker, the Rangers were able to keep the Sabres at bay until they iced the puck with around 18 seconds remaining. Drury lost the faceoff to Michael Nylander, but Dainius Zubrus was able to get in back behind the net. Zubrus found Drury again, who passed back to Tim Connolly. Connollyís shot from outside the left faceoff circle was redirected by Daniel Briere. As usual, Lundqvist made a great stop, but Drury, banged home the rebound to drive the sellout crowd into a frenzy. The hearts of 18,690 were beating wildly and erratically once again because of yet another last second comeback by the Sabres. This has happened with so much frequency that the fans should be getting used to these frantic comebacks, but they keep asking how many times can they do this?

Mad Max finally delivers

Afinogenov, who was benched in Game 4 after Sabres coach Lindy Ruff became disgruntled with his performance, made a dramatic comeback Friday night. Finally, Maxim was strutting his stuff, showing off his amazing skating abilities, putting defensemen in a tizzy with his moves.

Lindy Ruff took a chance. Maximum Afinogenov, accused of not being a playoff player, was benched in game 4. A lot of fans didn't want Maxim to be put into the lineup for the crucial 5th game, but Lindy played a hunch. He felt that Afinogenov would bounce back and get some of the pizzaz he displays in the regular season. That hunch paid off as Mad Max scored the game winner, a long blast from the point during a powerplay. Ruff felt he had won the lottery with his gamble.

"Max and I have had a lot of discussions," revealed Ruff. "Thereís bending with Max. Iím not going to make Max into the perfect player."

"This is probably the biggest goal of my career, for sure," admitted Afinogenov. "Youíre not going to be a better player overnight, or a worse player. But maybe scoring a goal helps."

Lindy talked about the poor performances by Afinogenov in the post season.

"I've got my own theory but I'm not going to share it now," Ruff talked about Maximís slump.

"He was the old Max tonight. He skated. He was challenging wide. He beat players. He was the old Max tonight, which is what we needed. He got the biggest hug from me in the runway after the goal, and I was really excited for him, really excited. It was awesome."

Sabres still need motivation

For some reason, this Sabres club is having a hard time getting motivated for these playoff games. This is what they worked so hard for the entire season, and to not come out and play desperation hockey is a disgrace. The Rangers have certainly had more spirit, heart and drive than the Sabres, except in the last few minutes of the game with the Sabres behind. It is only when they are facing a sure loss, do they find the spark to play inspired hockey. It was the same story on Friday. With the game looking like it was going into overtime, the Sabres were playing a laid back game, just trying to conserve their energy for a possible long and grinding overtime session(s).

Then lightning struck, Straka scored with just a little over 3 minutes to play and the Sabres were shocked into revving up their game again. It almost was too little too late until Drury pulled the magic out of his hat once more and spared the Sabres the embarrassment of going to New York Sunday down 3-2 in the series.

It will take a stellar effort by the Sabres to prevent a return to HSBC Arena Tuesday for Game 7. The Rangers havenít lost in Madison Square Garden in ages and the Sabres didnít look impressive in their two sloppy losses there last week.

Up until 7.7 seconds to go Friday night, the Sabres have not lived up to their expectations and need to finally step it up 100 notches if they want to end it Sunday in New York. They need to play beyond their norm. The Sabres need to play angry!

One only has to look at the Ottawa Senators for an example of how a team must perform to reach the next level. Players like Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Spezza are not only making their usual offensive plays, but they are putting their bodies on the line. All three have been making the kind of heavy hits you'd expect out of a player like Scott Stevens. What's more, they are laying down to block shots.

The Sabres have been patting themselves on their collective backs all season. When they got a huge lead in the East during the regular season, they took a vacation and just went through the motions. Since winning the Presidents Trophy, it appears the Sabres feel they are assured a place in the Stanley Cup Finals. David Bowie had a song that fits the Sabres attitude called "I'm Too Sexy." The Sabres feel they're too sexy for these preliminary rounds to play a full 60 minutes in a playoff game.


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