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Sabres Central

Woolley’s spark helps beat Panthers
By Rick Anderson
April 6, 2002

Sabres' standout rookie Ales Kotalik delivers a hit to Panthers' Brad Norton during first period action.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

Sometimes things come a little too late. The may be the case with the Buffalo Sabres, who kept their very slim playoff hopes alive Friday night with a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers. The odds against the Sabres making the playoffs are almost as long as winning the New York State Lotto, but the Sabres apparently aren’t throwing in the towel just yet.

Jason Woolley, who has been in and out of the lineup all season, is making good use of his playing time recently. Friday night he scored the game winner with around 2 and a half minutes left in the second stanza to help prevent yet another lower rung team from upsetting the Sabres this season. Florida already has captured a few points from the Sabres, as has Tampa Bay, Columbus, Atlanta and Nashville. In fact, losses to those weak teams are the key to why Buffalo will be out of the playoffs after next weekend. That is unless a Miracle on Ice happens.

Woolley, who was sitting up in the stands for 10 straight games in March (and was scratched a total of 18 games), has proven his value in helping ignite at least some offensive spark in an otherwise powerless offensive unit.

"It's the way it goes,” remarked Woolley about finally being able to contribute to the offense. “That's what I'm here for, to hop in and help out whenever I can. You've got to be ready whenever you get a chance. And you've got to make it tough for them to pull you out."

Taylor Pyatt, who has emerged as the better of the two prospects the Sabres got in exchange for Michael Peca, scored the first goal at the 5:42 mark of the second period, as he stood in the slot area and redirected a shot by Jay McKee.

With 5 regulars out of the lineup, including Stu Barnes, Dmitri Kalinin, Brian Campbell, Rob Ray and J.P. Dumont, Pyatt knew he had to fill some of the holes in the Sabres attack.

"That's part of being a team, when some of the top guys are out of the lineup other guys have to step up," reflected Pyatt, who also had an assist. "You feel like you're a little more part of it, when someone goes down, to play a little more and get a chance to contribute."

With the Sabres up 1-0, Curtis Brown fished out the puck from behind the Panters’ cage and fed it to Woolley, pinching in from the blue line. Woolley took his shot from the slot area and it beat Florida goalie Trevor Kidd.

Even if Kalinin didn’t have the flu and was in the starting lineup, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff would have played Woolley anyway.

"It's a tough situation," admitted Ruff about who to put in there on the blue line. "We need all guys producing. I thought he struggled a couple of nights, but he gave us a good night tonight."

At the 16:05 mark of the third period, Chris Gratton, who had a glorious opportunity earlier in the game when fed the puck all alone with a gapping net only to hit the post, got the cushion goal.

Sabres goalie Martin Biron had another solid game, stopping 21 of 22 shots. The only piece of rubber to get past him was late in the game when Kristian Huselius wrecked his shutout bid by beating Biron when the Panthers had a powerplay with 1:27 remaining. Panthers coach Mike Keenan decided to pull Kidd for an extra attacker, thus Florida had two skaters up on the Sabres. Once again, Biron was very close to a shutout, only to lose it in the end.

Said Keenan about pulling Kidd down 3-0, "We wanted to put something on the board. We were still trying to win."

The Sabres who are 4 points out of the 8th and final playoff spot with 4 games remaining, travel to Tampa Bay where they play a 5 PM contest on Sunday. While it is not probable the Sabres will sneak into the playoffs, they do finish off against the two teams they have to beat out, Washington and Montreal next weekend. Anything is possible in the Wild and Woolley season, but don’t hold your breath.


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