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Sabres Central

The last Hurrah for the Sabres
By Rick Anderson
April 14, 2002

Sabres' forward Rob Ray takes down Canadiens' Oleg Petrov in third period action. It may have been Ray's final game as a Buffalo Sabre.
[AP Photo/Ryan Remiorz]

The Buffalo Sabres capped off their season on a high note when they blanked the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 in Montreal. Finishing their vastly disappointing season with an impressive victory only underscores the fact that they have no one but themselves to blame for missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996.

Martin Biron was solid in the nets, making 22 saves for his 4th shutout of the season.

"Marty was very solid," commented Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "It was a very good way to end the year." "Marty was very solid," Ruff said. "It was a very good way to end the year."

The Sabres were hoping this final game against the Canadiens would be much more meaningful than what it was. With the Canadiens clinching the 8th and final playoff seed in the East earlier in the week, the game turned out to be a mere exhibition game.

Unlike Friday night’s game against Washington, the two No. 1 goalies started this game. Biron continued his impressive play while Jose Theodore made 31 saves.

Miroslav Satan continued his late-season torrid pace by notching his 37th goal of the season at the 11:00 mark of the final period. But it was his disappearance during important stretches in the season that may have also cost Buffalo a playoff berth. But Satan can’t be singled out as quite a few of the scorers the Sabres depend on went on vacation during the campaign.

Erik Rasmussen, one of the most disappointing acts for the Sabres this year, scored the opening tally of the game. Taylor Pyatt netted an empty net goal to cap the scoring.

The Sabres held their destiny in their hands for most of the season, but squandered golden opportunities to advance in the standings.

The Sabres ended the season at the .500 mark, going 35-35-11-1. They had been below .500 for the entire season until very late in the year. The Sabres just didn’t have the talent or the drive to make the playoffs. Losses to the league’s weaker teams sealed Buffalo’s fate as did crucial games late in the season. With Sabres owner John Rigas in financial trouble with his Adelphia Cable, the Sabres future is a big question mark going into the offseason.

With the Sabres management having their hands tied as far as spending money was concerned this season, it will be interesting to see just how they handle the free agent situation.

Richard Smehlik, Rob Ray, Bob Corkum, James Patrick and veteran goalie Bob Essensa will all be unrestricted free agents. Essensa has already announced his retirement. Ray held a tearful post game press conference after what could have been his last game in a Sabres uniform in Buffalo Friday night. From all signs, it appears as if Ray’s days in Buffalo are over. Corkum was a trade deadline pickup and his future in Buffalo is probably as good as recent year rent-a-player pickups. Patrick may be the only unrestricted free agent that sticks with the team next season.

Even more imperative for the Sabres future is the signing of the horde of restricted free agents. These include the promising young goalies Biron and Mika Noronen. Maxim Afinogenov, who showed signs of becoming a proficient goal scorer is one of the players the Sabres must ink to a contract if they are at all committed to supplying a competent team next year. The other restricted free agents are Rhett Warrener, Chris Gratton, Vaclav Varada, Tim Connolly, and Slava Kozlov. Kozlov came to Buffalo in the Dominik Hasek deal and suffered a serious injury that kept him out for most of the season. Gratton must be offered a qualifying $2 million contract or he becomes a unrestricted free agent.

Sabres Talk

The Sabres now will clean out their lockers for what could be the last time for quite a few of the players. Rasmussen knows that his bad season may mean a one-way ticket out of Buffalo.

"We're not a real happy bunch of guys," admitted Rasmussen. "We missed the playoffs. We know what could have been. It's going to be a long offseason. You play this game for the playoffs. It doesn't matter what you do in the regular season. The playoffs are everything. Ask any guy what his goal is, and it's to have that one chance to hold up the Stanley Cup."

Another player who could be gone is Gratton.

"We're not going to be able to move on, but we have to," Gratton said. "We were playing playoff hockey since January and then it came to a crashing halt."

One of the players who should be offered a good contract is Biron. He too was not the least bit satisfied with the way the season went.

"Right now it's a disappointment we're not in," commented Biron, who is the eternal optimist. "But two or three years down the road maybe we'll look at this and feel that it was a necessity, that we learned from it and never want to be in that position again."

Have a good summer

I want to wish all my readers a good summer and hopefully next fall the Sabres can turn this thing around. After over 2 seasons of writing up game recaps, I have decided to take the Sabres Central in a new direction. The game recap format is a thing of the past as of Saturday’s final game against the Canadiens. Next season, look forward to a whole new format. The idea of a Sabres Week in Review will be one of the new features on Sabres Central.

Thanks again for reading my articles and we’ll see you next season!


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