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Sabres Central

Sabres topple the Big Boys - Flames & Flyers

The Sabres showed that they could stand up to a big tough team when they defeated the Calgary Flames in a shootout Friday night, but the real test would be against the big bad Broad Street Bullies. The Sabres hadnít beaten the Philadelphia Flyers in two years and counting and just a week ago they were embarrassed at home when the Flyers rubbed their faces against the boards with a 5-2 thrashing. The Sabres passed their black & blue test this weekend with flying colors after finally beating the Flyers 3-2 before another vociferous crowd in Philly.

The Sabres stood up to the bullies and matched them hit for hit. Ryan Miller had to be on top of his game to prevent the Flyers from tying the game. The Sabres twice had a two goal lead, only to see the Flyers get it down to one. Thomas Vanek scored the first goal for Buffalo and rookie Tyler Ennis, called up from Portland for the injured Drew Stafford, scored his first NHL goal. Paul Gaustad got what turned out to be the game-winner in the third period, when he tipped a Tyler Meyerís shot past Ray Emmery. Big Chris Pronger got his second goal in a week against Miller when his shot from the point fooled the Sabres goalie, making it a 3-2 game. From that point on, the Sabres battled the bigger Flyers, trying to keep them from getting another puck past their goalie.

When the final seconds ticked away and Buffalo had their first victory over the Flyers since the 2007-08 season, the Sabres knew that they had proven to themselves and their fans that they can indeed play with the big boys and even beat them.

Letís look back at the past week, from the losses to the Flyers and Bruins to how the Sabres rebounded this week with 3 straight wins. This was my instant view of those games from the cheap seats...

Calgary at Buffalo - Friday, November 13

The rap on the Sabres for the past few years was that they weren't big enough, tough enough, mean enough. They were a finesse team with more speed than muscle. That notion was re-enforced last weekend with back-to-back losses to the bigger Flyers and Bruins.

An Alberta Clipper named the Calgary Flames roared into Buffalo Friday night. The mere arrival of the Flames sent chills down the spines of Sabre diehards. If the Flyers destroyed the Sabres a week earlier, just how could they handle the Flames they asked.

The Sabres were determined to prove to everyone, including themselves that they could indeed compete with the Big Boys. Two of the best goalies the NHL has to offer starred down each other as the two teams battled to a 1-1 tie in regulation. Ryan Miller was once again outstanding between the pipes. Miller made 25 saves and Miikka Kiprusoff, his counterpart, had 32 in regulation. The game remained tied at 1 through overtime and thus the shootout began. People who complain about the shootouts should be forced to watch the highlights of the one that showcased these dueling goalies. After Derek Roy scored on Kiprusoff to open the shootout, and Miller was beaten by Olli Jokinen's backhand that somehow got through his pads. After that, Miller was a rock and it took a perfect shot by Jason Pominville to finally beat Kiprusoff for the winner. Miller had to make one more stop after Pominville's tally to preserve the win.

Edmonton at Buffalo, Wednesday November 11

After two straight losses, the Sabres needed to get back to their game that gave them success this season. They did just that with a 3-1 win over the Oilers Wednesday night. The Sabres had to overcome playing shorthanded for almost half the game as they were penalized to the hilt. Ryan Miller stood tall in goal and helped the Sabres get back on track.

Drew Stafford got the Sabres on the scoreboard in first period and. Steve Montador upped the Sabres lead to 2-0 in the second. However, the Sabres ran into penalty problems and spent much of the remainder of the second half of the game killing off penalties. They were able to hang on and Miller kept the Oilers at bay during the critical stretch.

Buffalo at Boston, November 7

From my perspective in these cheap seats, the Sabres seemed to be reverting back to how they played last season. They could not take the physical abuse that bigger teams inflicted upon them. Thus, they usually turtled and wilted under the ferocious attack.

Last season, the Sabres roared out of the gates with a 6-0-1 record. This year was even better with a 8-2-1 start. The Sabres season quickly cooled off last year when they went into several long slumps and then injuries took their toll. Sabres hope that this isn't a repeat of last season as Buffalo has now lost two straight and don't seem to be in the same league as the better teams.

The Boston Bruins handed the Sabres a 4-2 loss Saturday night in Boston. The Sabres started rookie goaltender Jhonas Enroth and things just didn't start well for the 21-year old as he allowed a goal on the Bruins very first shot. Three pucks had gotten past him on the first 13 Bruins shots, but Lindy Ruff kept the struggling goalie in the nets, determined to finally give overworked goal tender Ryan Miller a night off.

The Sabres had only themselves to blame for the loss, however. They lacked any kind of energy and physical presence on the ice and seem to be going back to the lackluster play of last season when they didn't make the playoffs for the second straight year. Unless if they can turn it around and start playing the kind of desperation, aggressive hockey needed to be a playoff team, the Sabres will be on the golf course early again next spring.

Philadelphia at Buffalo, November 6

This was the BIG test to see where the Sabres stood with the NHL elite. Friday's loss proves that they aren't ready to play with the Big Boys, not yet anyway.

The Sabres were outhit, outshot and outplayed in a 5-2 humiliation to the Philadelphia Flyers at HSBC Arena. While taking a 9-2-1 record into the game, they clearly aren't ready to skate with the best of them. The Sabres are now 0-5 against the Mighty Flyers the past two seasons. They still have 3 more games with the Orange & Black, and if they don't get more aggressive and stand up to the Broad Street Bullies, they will be swept for two consecutive seasons.

The Flyers let Marty Biron go in order to fit Chris Pronger into their salary cap. The move seems to be working as even the Giant Oak scored against the Sabres and former Senators reject, Ray Emery, held the Sabres in check.

After the Sabres won the Presidents Trophy a few years ago, the Sabres thought all they had to do was to skate fast and fancy and the wins would come easy. The past two seasons have proven that the Sabres are a finesse team that needs to bulk up and get more physical if they want to make the playoffs again.

The road from here

The Sabres have righted themselves nicely after two humbling losses to the Flyers and Bruins last weekend. By winning 3 straight, especially the tough tests against the Flames and Flyers, the Sabres may have finally turned the corner. But the season is long and the Sabres have a history of resting on their laurels. If they want to make the playoffs and show that they can indeed compete for the Stanley Cup, they have to continue what they did the past 3 games throughout the season, and that is to play tough, aggressive hockey, especially against the likes of the Flyers and Flames.


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