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Sabres Central

Sabres try to keep pace with the Isles
By Rick Anderson
March 21, 2004

Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo does a flip as Sabres Daniel Briere skates through the crease during a Sabres 2-1 victory over Florida.
[AP Photo/Rick Silva]

With seven games to go, the Buffalo Sabres find themselves still in contention for the last playoff spot. By beating the Florida Panthers 2-1 Saturday night, they moved to only 4 points from the 8th place New York Islanders. The Isles, however won their Sunday afternoon contest with the Lightning, thus dropping Buffalo back down to 6 points behind.

The big problem for the Sabres is that they only have 7 games to go in the season and it will take some outside help to get into the playoffs for the first time in 3 years.

The Sabres have to be applauded for their effort, especially under the harsh circumstances they found themselves in the past few weeks. Injuries have plagued the Sabres as they found themselves without their top defenseman, Alexei Zhitnik and captain Chris Drury this past week. Zhitnik is out with a broken bone in his right shoulder and Drury received a concussion when he was pummeled to the ice by Leafs center Joe Nieuwendyk in Monday's 6-5 overtime loss to Toronto. Drury had lost his helmet before being slammed into the ice.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was furious about the Nieuwendyk hit

"I think there was intent in the end to smash his head into the ice," fumed Ruff. "I'm not one to do a lot of complaining. I'm not one that says "We gotta look at this and look at that.' But he's one of our best players. I think that the coach should be concerned in that case."

The Sabres have been bringing up reinforcements from Rochester to help fill the holes because of a rash of injuries.

Zhitnik will be out the remainder of the regular season, but Drury came back and played in the Sabres 2-1 win over Florida. The Sabres also lost Taylor Pyatt with a separated shoulder in the Sabres win over Atlanta on Wednesday. Buffalo also is minus the services of Ales Kotalik and defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick for the remainder of the season. Kotalik has a separated shoulder and Fitzpatrick has a knee injury.

Considering all the injuries and the fact that the Sabres lost 3 straight overtime games earlier in the week, it is a wonder that they are still in the playoff race at all.

Biron shuts down Panthers

Sabres goalie Martin Biron has had a very inharmonious season thus far. He has had some great games, but mostly his erratic play in the nets has been cause for concern with Ruff. On Saturday night, Biron played one of his best games of the season. He made 23 saves and was at the top of his game late in the third period when the Panthers were swarming around him. He made two great saves in a row at one point and looked solid in the nets the entire game.

"When they started coming hard I knew the guys would respond," said Biron after the game. "They were blocking shots, and they were whacking, hacking and getting guys out of there. I was desperate, too, throwing my pads out there. Luckily, we got the bounces."

The Sabres took a 2-0 lead in the first period with goals by Miroslav Satan and Derek Roy. It was Satan's 29th goal, which leads the team.

Satan's goal came on the power-play at the 6:29 mark of the first period. He zinged one from the point past Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo. Then with around 2 minutes left in the period, Roy got his 8th goal of the season which turned out to be the game winner.

Vaclav Nedorost got a powerplay goal early in the second stanza, but Biron was unbeatable after that. It was crucial that the Sabres won that game as they had fallen to 6 behind the idle Isles, who had won the night before. Unfortunately, New York beat Tampa Bay in a Sunday afternoon contest, to go up 6 points on the Sabres once again.

Sabres blow 3-goal lead against Leafs

Last week, the Sabres had blown leads against the Bruins twice, losing in overtime. That trend continued Monday night as the Sabres took a 5-2 lead into the third period against Toronto, only to lose 6-5 in overtime. It was an alarming trend and made any chance of making the playoffs looks bleak.

Gary Roberts pulled the Leafs into a tie very late in the game when he deflected a shot by Alexander Mogilny past Biron and then Tomas Kaberle got the game winner to the joy of the huge Leafs throng at HSBC Arena at the 3:45 mark of the overtime.

"Words really can't say how bad we feel right now," said Jay McKee after that game. "I think for the most part we worked really darned hard tonight. The frustrating and disappointing part is we don't want to put ourselves in a position where we look back at the end of the season and ask, "What if?' "

"There were a lot of bizarre goals," described Ruff. "You can't defend that. We didn't give them breakaways. We didn't give them odd-man rushes."

Sabres beat Thrashers then lose to Lightning

It was a roller coaster week for the Sabres. After losing to the Leafs in such a shocking fashion, they bounced back and upended the Atlanta Thrashers

Being down 3-1 in the third period to the Thrashers, Ruff decided he had to reach down into his bag of tricks to get the Sabres some spark. With Buffalo on a powerplay with over 8 minutes to go, Ruff pulled Biron in favor of another extra attacker. His ploy worked as the Sabres finally were able to score when Adam Mair got the puck past Pasi Nurminen at the tail end of a 7-minute powerplay. Then with a little over 6 minutes left in regulation, Jochen Hecht tied up the score at 3-3 by shooting the puck five-hole.

Then right off the faceoff in overtime, the Sabres got a lucky bounce when Nurminen failed to handle a shot by Roy that was bouncing around in the crease and slowly went over the goal line. The Sabres took the points and ran with them, all the way to Tampa Bay.

Against the league-leading Lightning, the Sabres held their own until the third period. With the score tied at 1-1, former Sabre Dave Andreychuk slipped a nice pass to Tim Taylor, who beat Biron cleanly to put the Bolts up 2-1. They added an empty netter and that was it for the Sabres.

Impossible dream?

With the Islanders not giving up any ground to the Sabres, especially in light of their big win 3-0 over the Lightning on Sunday, the road to the playoffs for Buffalo is a rocky one at best. The Isles beat the Lightning twice this week, 3-1 on Tuesday and also beat the Minnesota Wild 3-1 Friday. They did lose one to the Panthers, 6-4, but are playing their best hockey of the season right now. It looks like it would take a miracle on ice for the Sabres to avoid missing the playoffs for the third straight year.

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