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Sabres Central

Noronen goal caps off dazzling week
By Rick Anderson
February 15, 2004

Mika Noronen, blocks a shot by Leafs forward Robert Reichel in the Sabres 6-4 win over Toronto. These two combine for two goals as Reichel scored the Leafs 4th goal and the Sabres 6th goal. Reichel sent a pass that went down the ice into an empty Leafs goal near the end of the game.
[Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images]

It may be too soon to start calling them the Comeback Kids. However, the Buffalo Sabres have certainly become resilient recently, especially this past week when they made three straight comebacks in spectacular fashion.

To add a crowning jewel to their accomplishments, goaltender Mika Noronen consummated a feat that is very rare indeed. Saturday night in Toronto's Air Canada Centre, Noronen was credited for scoring the last Sabres goal in their 6-4 come-from-behind victory over the Maple Leafs.

Noronen didn't actually shoot the puck into the Leafs net, but was the last Buffalo player to touch the puck before a centering pass by Leafs forward Robert Reichel, in the dying moments of the game went untouched down the length of the ice into the Leafs net. Toronto had pulled its goalie in the attempt to tie up the game, but it backfired. Noronen was the grateful recipient of the gift.

"It was kind of a fluke," admitted Noronen. "I really can't tell you what happened. I was just trying to stop the puck. Maybe the next one, I'll shoot into the net.

"I didn't know until our trainer gave me the puck after the game. He told me they likely might still change the goal to me, and that's what they did. Maybe I'll put (the puck) up on my wall."

The Noronen goal was just the icing on the cake, topping of a great week where they made comebacks against the Pacific Division leading San Jose Sharks, the Los Angeles Kings and finally the Leafs.

Sabres spot Leafs 3 goal lead

The Sabres, like they had the night before against the Kings, fell behind quickly in the game when the Leafs scored 3 straight in the second stanza against Buffalo. Against the Kings, they fell behind 3-1, before scoring 7 unanswered goals to win going away 8-3. It would be much harder to accomplish such a comeback against the Leafs in the Air Canada Centre, where they had never won a game.

Matthew Stajan, Tom Fitzgerald and Alexei Ponikarovsky had put the Leafs up by a commanding 3-0 lead by the 13 minute mark of the period and things looked bleak indeed for Buffalo. But having overcome a similar setback the night before, the Sabres showed a new resiliency they haven't shown in years. After the third Toronto goal, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff decided not to wait as long as he has previously this year in pulling the goalie. Out went Martin Biron, who had won seven out of his last 8 games. Biron wasn't shaky as he has been in the past when he suddenly has trouble stopping anything, but Ruff didn't want to wait too long as the game could have gotten completely out of hand.

"I've been a little hesitant in the past to pull the goaltender," alluded Ruff to his delay of benching the starter. "To a man, the guys in the room really responded. Mika stepped in and did a fabulous job for us."

That seemed to spark the Sabres as they took advantage of a 4-minute penalty to Mikael Renberg for clipping Daniel Briere and drawing blood. It was Briere who spotted Chris Drury all alone to the left of Leafs goalie Trevor Kidd and Drury had no problem beating Kidd to get the Sabres on the scoreboard. Drury's goal came at the 17:42 mark of the stanza. Just like they had against the Kings the night before, that rallied the Sabres as they scored 5 unanswered goals to surge ahead of the rattled Leafs.

The Sabres, who had scored at least one power-play goal in the previous six games, continued the streak and added yet another powerplay goal when J.P. Dumont got his stick on a blast from Miroslav Satan's shot from the point, getting the Sabres back into the game, less than a minute later.

In the third period, Maxim Afinogenov notched thing up at the 3:45 mark, one-timing a nice feed from Curtis Brown. Ales Kotalik and Brown gave the Sabres a two goal lead before the Leafs finally broke the Sabres amazing goal streak when Reichel pulled the Leafs within one. But it was Reichel who scored again, this time for the Sabres, when his pass to a nonexistent Leaf in front, thread the needle through a maze of legs and went amazingly into the Leafs net.

Sabres chase Cechmanek again!

Poor Roman Cechmanek. Seems that every time he faces the Sabres, he gets pulled after allowing a ton of goals. No one can forget that fiasco back in the spring of 2001, when the Sabres chased Cechmanek in the final game of their opening series against the Philadelphia Flyers. They scored 5 on him, just like they did Friday night when he manned the Kings goal, and went on their way to an impressive 8-0 win. Against the Kings, they spotted them a 3-1 lead and then roared back with 7 unanswered goals.

While the Kings had taken a commanding 3-1 lead, the Sabres failed to record one shot on Cechmanek in the second period. Then, suddenly, they caught fire and scored 3 in less than 3 minutes.

"Everybody was shaken," Kings winger Ian Laperriere said. "It wasn't Roman only. I can't recall a game like that."

Roman can, back in that game that eliminated the Flyers from the playoffs in 2001.

Henrik Tallinder got the Sabres rolling, followed by Drury and Rory Fitzpatrick in rapid-fire. Unlike Ruff, who replaced Biron after he allowed 3 against the Leafs, Kings coach Andy Murray left Cechmanek in when the third period started and that kept the Sabres surge going as Briere snapped a shot past the beleaguered Kings goalie. In came Cristobal Huet, but that didn't stop the Sabres scoring machine as they zinged 3 more past him on their way to scoring 8 goals for the first time since Nov. 8, 2001, when the Sabres had yet another 8-0 victory, this time against the Atlanta Thrashers.

Buffalo circles the Sharks

The Sabres started their comeback heroics the modest way against the San Jose Sharks Tuesday with a 2-1 win against the Sharks. The Sharks got first blood, scoring when Mike Ricci scored on a breakaway on Biron. But it turned out to be the Daniel Briere show, as the February captain put on a display of dazzling hockey, scoring twice and almost getting a hat trick.

Briere, who was one of GM Darcy Regier's better acquisitions, was named the new Sabres captain before the Bruins game a week ago, and the Sabres got blown out 6-2 in that game. It was not the best of starts for Briere's captaincy.

"It's a lot better," Briere quipped about the winning effort. "Hopefully it will be like that every night. It's a great feeling right now.

"We were a little sluggish at . We knew they were going to come out hard."

The Sabres, by winning three straight after that Bruins fiasco, now are finally at the .500 mark for the first time since December 4. They are still 5 points behind the 8th place team in the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders, who they face next Saturday on Long Island. Before then, the Sabres face the Thrashers, Florida and Tampa Bay this week, all at home. This will be a great opportunity to close that gap and maybe even move into the last playoff spot by next Sunday.

Sabres Talk

By being credited with a goal, Noronen is now $1,000 richer. It is written in his contract and it was a great end to a night where he anticipated spending the game watching from the bench.

"I was a little bit surprised," said Noronen about being thrust into the game when the Leafs took a 3-0 lead. "Marty has been playing well lately. But they happened to score three quick goals and (Lindy) gave me the chance to go in. The guys started to score and suddenly we had a lead and we were able to keep it to the end."

Then Noronen talked about his legendary goal.

"It's pretty funny, actually," laughed Noronen. "I can say I'm one of the leading defense scorers on the team now. I've got to be proud of that."

Briere, who has been on a scoring tear as of late, is making the most of being the Sabres monthly captain. He talked about the Sabres slow starts in their last three games, only to rebound with a fury.

"That's the way we've been playing," described Briere. "We started slowly in both games but we're finding ways to win. We weren't doing that earlier in the season. We believe we can beat anybody right now. The guys have made a commitment to start playing together and it's an amazing difference."

"Danny just knows where to go," lauded Ruff. "He's got that talent. He can sense where the puck's going to go. He's good at reading. It's a gift offensive players have, and seeing how I wasn't an offensive player I can't describe it. Danny's just a real good little competitor. He plays a lot bigger than he is. He has great hands, and he's got a real good knack on the offensive side."

Pat Quinn, as could be expected, was none too happy over the Leafs collapse.

"That was as poor a game as we've had in a while from our defensemen," fumed Quinn. "Their third goal was a workers' goal but the rest were pretty much our players up ice getting trapped, leading to outnumbered rushes and poor coverage."

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