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Sabres Central

Maple Leaf syrup revitalizes Sabres
By Rick Anderson
November 22, 2001

Sabres goalie Martin Biron gets ready for a shot as defenseman Jay McKee tries to get the puck away for Leafs center Mats Sundin during first period action.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The patient was deathly ill. Falling victim to an attack by weaker foreign bodies, this patient was suffering from many ailments. It became lethargic and bilious and was in need of immediate medical treatment. Miraculously, the patient was saved of an untimely death. The remedy to the many ailments of the Buffalo Sabres came in the form of the Toronto Maple Leafs and a 4-2 victory over their arch rivals.

Coming off a 4 game losing streak and losing 9 in 12 games, the Sabres were a sick patient indeed. An immediate transfusion of energized blood was needed to rejuvenate the Sabres and the Maple Leafs have been the tonic of choice used by the team for years to get out of its doldrums. Call it Maple Leaf syrup, but whatever it was, it worked wonders on an ailing Sabres team.

Wednesday night before a festive pre-Thanksgiving Day crowd that was divided between the two teams, the Sabres finally found some life and displayed the kind of hockey they are capable of playing. The Sabres have been in hockey's infirmary for weeks and it looked like a hopeless case until the Leafs injected some ebullience back into them. The Leafs couldn't have come at a better time.

Having lost to such anemic teams as Columbus, Montreal, Nashville, Florida and Atlanta twice, the Sabres were in need of a robust team to motivate them. Add to the mix of medication the fact that the Sabres always get up at the sight of the famous Blue & White uniforms of the Leafs, along with the throngs of Leaf fans in attendance, and it was a sure cure.

Sabres fans were asking "where has this team been" when the final horn sounded to end the feisty contest between the two teams. The Sabres picked up their game in all aspects, from goaltending to the forwards. This was the kind of game Buffalo has to play consistently if they want to get back into the playoff race. It is going to take a hard effort to retain the kind of intensity and grit the team displayed against Toronto, but if they don't then the Sabres will find themselves back in the NHL's infirmary of disposed teams before the Olympic break.

"They were a desperate hockey team, and that goes to show what happens when you play a desperate team," Toronto's Garry Valk said.

J.P. Dumont played one of his best games in a Sabres uniform as he made two beautiful passes to set up two crucial Buffalo goals and finished with the insurance goal to put the Leafs out to the curb for disposal.

JP's the man!

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has been preaching about the players driving to the crease and Wednesday night it paid off, especially for Dumont who was not only aggressively charging the net but also fighting off checks along the boards to gain control of the puck.

Sabres defensemen Jay McKee and Richard Smehlik sandwhich Leafs Mats Sundin in the third period as the Sabres beat the Leafs 4-2.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

"We saw some very good things in the game, especially driving to the net," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "Dumont paid the price to get to the net and it paid off for Satan's goal. I thought every line played well."

Buffalo opened the scoring at 13:05 of the first period when Dumont charged in and passed to Jason Woolley from the right faceoff circle and Woolley, pinching in, blasted it past Corey Schwab. Schwab, who was in for Curtis Joseph, made 21 saves in the game and played pretty solid, keeping the Sabres from scoring as many as 8 goals.

Schwab keep the Sabres off the board in the early stages of second stanza when the Sabres had two-man powerplay for two minutes. With a little over half the period gone, Vaclav Varada worked the puck over to Curtis Brown who was platooned in the slot area, and Brown rifled it past Schwab to up the Sabres lead to 2-0.

The Leafs finally got on the board and into the game when Gary Roberts fed the puck through traffic in front of the net to Robert Reichel, who got it past Martin Biron four minutes after Brown's goal.

That's when Dumont decided to take it into his own hands again to regain the 2-goal Buffalo lead just a minute later. After getting a lead pass from captain Stu Barnes, Dumont stormed down the right side and made like a running back pushing off would-be tacklers. Dumont would have made it in for a touchdown with his aggressive style, as he plowed to the front of the net and forced Schwab to make a difficult save. However, coming in from behind was Miroslav Satan, who roofed it to notch his ninth of the season, once again giving the Sabres a 2-goal cushion.

The Leafs came back with a nice goal by Mikael Renberg with only 13.1 ticks left on the clock to go into the dressing room still in the game.

Dumont was not done with the Leafs, however. He had raked them and mulched them, now he was ready to burn them. With Barnes behind the net, Dumont once again charged the crease and received a perfect pass from Barnes that he buried to top off a stupendous night.

The Sabres face another top Canadian foe on Friday when they host the surprising Calgary Flames.

Sabre Talk

Biron played one of his most steadier games in weeks. He stopped 25 of 27 shots and looked especially sharp in the first period when the Sabres needed to keep the Leafs from scoring first. Every team that has scored first on Buffalo has won this season.

"I thought Marty played a fabulous game," lauded Ruff.

When Biron made a two Hasek-like saves on Belak and Hoglund, one knew that Marty must be overcoming his No. 1 goalie jitters.

"I stuck the pads across, trying to be more aggressive,"Biron said.

"It doesn't matter how you get your points, you have to get them," said Biron about the victory. "That's how you have to look at, not hang your head and say we lost to Nashville and Atlanta and Florida. That's brutal."

Woolley echoed Biron's thoughts.

"No matter who it was tonight, we really needed to win," Woolley said. "We needed to get two points, we didn't care how ugly it was. I didn't care how we got it. It gets to the point where you throw out all the individual stats. It was a big win for us, It turned out to be a pretty entertaining game. I think it always is with Toronto-Buffalo."

Barnes was also a factor in this game, gritting it out to force the play in the Leafs end.

"Credit goes to everybody tonight," Barnes said. "Everybody played well, we got huge efforts all over the place."

Biron talked about the goal with just 13.1 seconds left in the second stanza that got the Leafs right back into the game heading into the dressing room.

"We came back with Miro's goal," said the ever-talkative Biron. "Between the second and the third we were in here and it was all positive. Guys just knew what we had to do, knew why that goal happened, knew that we weren't going to make that mistake again. We played one of the most boring third periods I've ever seen, but it still got us a goal."

"There were times in the last few games where we would get a goal scored on us and then we'd kind of hang our heads and feel a little negative," Biron rambled on. "Every time they scored tonight we responded the way we have to every time this season."

Ruff was upbeat about the sudden effectiveness of the aggressive offense.

"We saw some very good things offensively," Ruff remarked. "We're driving wide and going to the net again. I thought Dumont on Satan's goal cut in and he could have gotten decked, but he paid the price to get there."

Toronto defenseman Aki Berg was being held accountable for the final goal and was deemed the Leafs scapegoat after the game by the Toronto press.

According to Berg, "it was probably the worst night I have ever had. Everything went in."

Leafs coach Pat Quinn, after announcing that the Leafs had acquired Jyrki Lumme from the Dallas Stars (for defenseman defenseman Dave Manson) to improve the Leafs' defense.

"They didn't do a very good job," Quinn talked about his Blue-D. "When you watch from the bench or upstairs, it looks like your defense or your goaltending, but they had several outnumbered attacks. On the second goal, our forwards were back in position and did what we call a fly-by. And on (Satan's goal), we had a forward in the corner and he did not help out at all."

"We need help with our forwards," Quinn continued. "When you watch from the bench or upstairs, it looks like your defense or your goaltending, but they had several outnumbered attacks. On the second goal, our forwards were back in position and did what we call a fly-by. And on (Satan's score), we had a forward in the corner and he did not help out at all."

The Leafs were killing off penalties for good chunks of the game and that upset Quinn.

"Every time we got some momentum, there was another penalty to kill," the enraged Quinn said. "They played a very defensive game and got very good at it as the night went on."

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