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Sabres Central

Lucky bounces help beat Bruins
By Rick Anderson
March 2, 2002

The Sabres' Curtis Brown nets the game tying goal against Bruins goalie Byron Dafoe in the third period. It was Brown's second goal of the game.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

The Buffalo Sabres finally got a few lucky bounces Friday night and as a result, they defeated the Boston Bruins 4-3. It marked the first victory over the Bruins this season for the Sabres.

Rhett Warrener scored the game winner with just 3:36 left in the contest. To say it was a lucky bounce would be an understatement. Getting a shot off at Bruins goalie Byron Dafoe from the right faceoff circle, Warrener’s shot ricocheted off a Bruin’s stick and then snuck through Dafoe’s pads into the net to the delight of the Sabres fans.

"In the third period, the hockey gods definitely weren't with us," admitted Dafoe. "Some real bad, lucky bounces. And they're big bounces because they cost us the game."

Warrener won’t admit that it was supposed to be a pass.

That goal capped a bizarre and unlikely Sabres comeback in a game they desperately needed against the Northeast division leader. After taking a 1-0 lead in the first period on a goal by Curtis Brown, they squandered the lead just like they had in their previous game in Atlanta. Mike Knuble and Sergei Samsonov scored in the second stanza giving the Black Bears a 2-1 lead and it appeared as if the Sabres would lose yet another one that they had control of just like the Atlanta game.

Knuble’s goal was the result of Sabres goalie Martin Biron getting caught out of his net. As the puck went behind the cage, Biron went back to play it and then he cleared the puck right onto the stick of Knuble who fired it into the open net before Biron could get back in time.

Just a few minutes later, another Sabres mistake resulted in the Bruins taking the 2-1 lead. Alexei Zhitnik’s attempt to clear the puck out of the zone was blocked by Samsonov, who fired a shot between Biron’s pad and the left post.

The third period was a wild one with the Sabres striking first. Maxim Afinogenov kept up his torrid scoring pace when he got a feed from Chris Gratton along the right boards. Maxim’s shot bounced off a Bruin defender past Dafoe to tie the game. But that lead would not last long as Samsonov intercepted a Brown clearing pass and blasted it behind Biron. That seemed to take the wind out of the Sabres sails until Brown tied it up once again.

Brown skated from his own blue line into the Bruins zone where he beat off a defenseman and shot the puck off Dafoe and into the net. That score came at the 8:06 mark and led to the fluky Warrener goal.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was ecstatic over Brown’s end-to-end rush and score.

"He was the guy in the third period that grabbed the bull by the horns and went," lauded Ruff. "If there was a time you could crumble, we could've. But you look at a guy like Curtis Brown, who's been around long enough to take the lead there.”

Just shoot the darn puck!

With Ruff feeling intense heat to turn the Sabres season around so they can possibly make the playoffs, it was desperation time for the coach and the team. He decided to not only make the team watch their performance against Atlanta on video, but took a video of the Detroit Red Wings 60-shot effort against Florida on Wednesday to motivate his squad. His objective was to get the players to shoot much more than they have been. Enough of setting up the perfect pretty play. Just shoot the darn puck!

Brown tried to explain the “just make it simple stupid” strategy they tried to adopt.

"People always think it's a science, goal scoring,” said Brown. “But it's not. You think about it as a player and say "There's no way this can go in if I throw,' and sure enough those sneak in. It's a lesson to be learned."

"This is a team that isn't going to roll over no matter what the circumstances," Brown continued. "It's been said about us quite a bit, and that's not something that somebody just wakes up and says "I think I'm going to say this today.' It's something that's earned. It's the respect that we've earned. We're going to keep battling."

Ruff was pleased with the shoot-happy approach, especially with the 15 shots on Dafoe in the first period.

“We had people around the front of the net,” Ruff said. “Simple, but the execution worked.”

The Sabres ended up with 32 shots and 4 got through, 3 of them off deflections.

As Warrener said, "Everybody realized it doesn't have to be a three-minute cycle and a pretty backhanded pass to the backdoor for a wide open net."

The Sabres lost two defensemen in the game, Richard Smehlik and Jay McKee. Smehlik suffered to his lower lip after the puck hit him in the face in the third period. McKee is expected to play in Toronto Saturday.

"It was a pretty gritty effort," admitted Ruff. "We had a few guys banged up and came back. We had a second period we'd like to throw out, but our third period we just wouldn't quit."

Now the Sabres face the Leafs in Toronto Saturday night. The Leafs are in even worse shape as they have lost goalie Curtis Joseph for at least 6 weeks with a broken hand. This is the opportunity the Sabres have to make the most of if they want to salvage any slim chance they have of making the playoffs.


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