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Sabres Central

Sabres salvage point against Devils
By Rick Anderson
February 13, 2002

Sabres' Rhett Warrener tries to thread a pass with the Devils' Jim McKenzie on his tail during second period action. The Sabres and Devils played to a 2-all draw.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

It could have been worse. The Buffalo Sabres needed 4 points out of the home-and-home series with the New Jersey Devils and they got one. They were lucky to get one point as it took a late goal by Taylor Pyatt to force an overtime and a 2-all draw. Now the Sabres go on a two-week hiatus as the NHL breaks for the Olympic competition.

The Sabres players and coaches have a long time to ponder whether their failed effort against the Devils in the home-and-home series may have put their playoff lives in serious jeopardy.

After the game, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff and most of his players tried to put a positive spin on the Sabres fate.

"I just have to look at the big picture," reflected Ruff. "It's one loss in the last 7 games. It would be an awful bad feeling standing here now if we didn't get a point tonight. We'll take the point and we've got some ground to make up when we get back."

Most of the other players echoed Ruff's sentiments, saying that they had just completed a tough stretch with only one loss and they came out hard in the second game against the Devils and established an aggressive style that showed New Jersey that they would not be pushed around like they were in the first game on Sunday.

The Sabres immediately decided to address Colin Campbell's decision to not suspend Colin White for his brutal check of Vaclav Varada into the boards on Sunday which could have broken the Sabres forward's neck. Enter what Ruff proclaims as the Sabres' "Entertainment Committee." Rob Ray and Eric Boulton. If Campbell wasn't going to dole out the proper justice, then Ray and Boulton were going to deliver their own special brand of payback.

Like a scene out of Slapshot , Ray went after White just 2:16 into the game. Like has been the case all season, Ray seems to be staging a comeback in his fighting career. He has won most of his bouts this season and the match against White was a "no-contest." Ray proved his point and while he was just getting his seat in the penalty box warmed up, Boulton decided to liven things up himself as he took on Jim McKenzie.

"We wanted to set the tone and not let them dictate play,"insisted Ray said. "It's what we talked about before the game, and it's what we went out and did."

The two bouts definitely set the tone for the night and gave the Sabres the jump when they scored first on a powerplay. Maxim Afinogenov sliced a shot that got past Martin Brodeur on the short side 16:10 of the first period.

Jason Arnott, who has been a Sabres-killer these last two games, scored his 4th goal in the series 14:56 into the second stanza and John Madden gave the Devils their first lead 2:11 into the final period.

Pyatt Time

Pyatt, who seems to be blossoming faster than the other piece of the Peca trade Tim Connolly, scored the game-saving goal 18:10 of the final period. Sabres defenseman Jason Woolley got past Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer along the left boards and passed off to Pyatt cutting up the middle. Pyatt got a low shot off that went five-hole through Brodeur's pads. His goal ignited the crowd and the Sabres bench.

"Jason made a great play there," lauded Pyatt. "It's a big point for us."

"That was a huge goal,"elated Ray. "To not come out with anything, that would have been a major, major setback and a downer."

Olympic break gives Sabres time to ponder future

The two-week Olympic break may just be what the Sabres need to get their heads geared towards the mammoth task in front of them. There are 25 games left and the Sabres must win 75% of them if they want to secure a spot in the playoffs.

"We've got to take care of ourselves from a conditioning point," Ruff said in response to what his message to the team would be for the next two weeks. "It's a good rest period for a lot of players who've played a lot of hockey in a short number of days. But we've got 25 games left. Realistically, we've got to win 15-17 games, somewhat in that area.

The Sabres are 7 points out of 8th place and 8 behind the 7th place Devils. They dug this hole early in the year with terrible losses to such hockey giants like the Thrashers, Blue Jackets, Panthers, etc. The schedule after the Olympic break will be no cakewalk with 2 games against first place Boston and 3 against the Flyers. Also on the Sabres slate are the Red Wings, the Islanders, Toronto and a pair of games with the Canadiens and Capitals.

While it is mathematically possible for the Sabres to get into the playoffs, their schedule along with the fact that they just are not a good team will most likely weigh heavily against the Sabres goal.

Sabres Talk

The Sabres to a man were satisfied with their effort in Game two of the mini-series with the Devils.

"We needed to have a desperate game, a game with passion and intensity," related Rhett Warrener. "I think we did that."

"We wanted two points," Warrener went on. "We need to climb. Sitting still is not going to do it. We've really got to put something together, but you look at our last seven games and how we've played for the most part, we're playing well. We haven't made a move, but if we continue to play that way, we're bound to sooner or later."

Biron agree with Warrener.

"When you look at the game itself you reach a point where we're satisfied with the way we came out," Biron said. "It was a big game, we played a really hard game."

Biron, who made 24 saves, marveled at the Ray-Boulton tag team.

"I always think they wouldn't pay me enough money to do that," Biron said. "These two guys go out there and they just got the building going with back-to-back fights against two big guys." Talking about the late goal by Pyatt, Biron was praying the puck would go in to avert another loss to the Devils.

"Brodeur was there on time and I thought he had stopped it," recalled Biron. "I was hoping it would trickle through, but when I saw that red light come on it was a big feeling of relief."

Talking about relief, Brodeur thinks the Devils will get some in the two-week layoff, especially considering how they picked up their game and moved into 7th in the tight playoff race.

"Guys were happy going into the break," said Brodeur, who made 20 saves. "We gained some ground and got ourselves into a playoff spot for now."

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