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Sabres Central

Devils pitch fork Sabres
By Rick Anderson
February 11, 2002

Sabres goaltender Martin Biron makes one of his few saves in the game against the New Jersey Devils before Devils' Scott Gomez lands on top of him. Jason Wooley tripped up Gomez during this first period action.
[AP Photo/Bill Kostroun]

In what was the most crucial game so far this season, the Buffalo Sabres came up flat. Being on the verge of being completely eliminated from playoff contention, the Sabres played one of their worst games of the season as the New Jersey Devils beat the Sabres 4-1.

The offense couldn't generate anything, while the Sabres defense made crucial errors and Sabres goalie Martin Biron allowed a couple goals that were soft at best. The Sabres were slowly crawling out of the hole they dug for themselves earlier in the season and were gently creeping up close to the final playoff spot. Then they had this home-and-home series with the Devils, who were hovering around the final playoff spot themselves. This was a game were desperation was essential. The only desperate play came from the Devils.

Jason Arnott scored a hat trick against Biron, two of them were shots Biron had no right letting through. Bobby Holik scored the Devils second goal, and his shot handcuffed the Sabres beleaguered goalie. Biron, who had been playing stellar hockey for the past two weeks, not only slipped a few notches on the ladder, he fell completely off.

Before Biron did his best imitation of Swiss cheese, the Sabres were in the game but still could not put the rubber past Biron's antithesis, Martin Brodeur. With their very playoff lives teetering on the brink, the Sabres couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. It was a horrendous performance by the entire team, including the coaching staff. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff would be long gone if he coached for any other team but the Sabres. Both his and Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier's job are as secure as gold in Fort Knox.

After making just 9 saves on 13 shots, Ruff had enough of Biron and replaced him with Bob Essensa, who has had major sponsorship from a Swiss cheese company himself this season. Essensa stopped all 4 shots he faced in the third period. The fact that the Sabres allowed only 17 shots on goal yet gave up 4 goals needs to be addressed by Ruff.

"I'm not discouraged about it, it's just this was a big game," related Biron. "We took a step back, but we've got a chance to bring it back home the next time."

Coming into the game, the Devils were tied for the final playoff spot with two other teams, the Rangers and Canadiens at 59 points. The Sabres were 6 points behind those three and one point behind both Washington and Pittsburgh. If Buffalo had played a respectable game and beat the Devils, they would have closed to 4 points behind New Jersey. With the timely loss, the Sabres are now 8 points behind and it seems time to give the Sabres their last rights.

It was essential that the Sabres come out with fire in their eyes and pepper Brodeur early to take a quick lead. Instead, Brodeur stopped anything they threw at him and it gave the Devils time to challenge Biron. After allowing the first goal, which was the only good goal the Devils scored against the shaky Sabres goalie, Biron fell to pieces.

Finally, when the game was out of reach, the Sabres got the puck past Brodeur when Taylor Pyatt scored in the third period.

Sabres Talk

Arnott hadn't recorded a hat trick since the 1996 season. He picked an appropriate occasion to bring out the hats.

"Wow, it's been a long time, too long," said Arnott. "I've had a lot of two-goal games. I never thought it would happen. The puck had eyes tonight. It went in for me."

The Sabres play the second half of the home-and-home series against the Devils in Buffalo on Tuesday. The Devils hope to derail any Sabres playoff hopes by beating them in Buffalo.

"It's too early to tell, but Tuesday's game will show if we're developing a pattern under Kevin (Constantine)," said Holik about the Devils play under their new coach. "We need to be on a steady climb, not up and down like we've been."

Ruff read the players the riot act Monday afternoon, addressing the urgency of the Sabres situation.

"We made some big strides in the month of January," Ruff said Monday. "We're hoping that last night was just a blip on the map....and a big one. (We're) trying to set the attitude for tomorrow night."

Biron had his worst game in over a month and couldn't have picked a worse time for it.

"It was just one of those games where they came out with a little more everything than we did," said Biron.

Miroslav Satan, came back from his whirlwind tour of the Olympics at 12:30 Sunday afternoon. He had flown out to Wyoming, drove to Salt Lake City to join his Slovakia Olympic team, lost 3-0 to Germany and arrived a tired camper in New Jersey Sunday. Ruff put Satan out for 13:25 minutes against the Devils. His average is 21:15 minutes per game.

"I'm exhausted, I'd be lying if I said I'm not," related Satan. "I feel like I'll sleep for a couple of days. I feel like when you're sick for a couple of days or something, but during the game I have to say I felt very good. I felt like I had very good legs and I can skate. But I don't know if that was just my senses lying to me."

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