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Sabres Central

Sabres gunning for the playoffs
By Rick Anderson
March 30, 2004

Daniel Briere gets the puck up on Columbus goalie Fred Brathwaite during first period action. The Sabres beat the Blue Jackets 6-0.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

Speaking about a photo finish, the Sabres are taking this right down the wire. The Sabres, by beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-0 Monday night, climbed to within 3 points of the 8th place New York Islanders.

The goals were coming in bunches as Dmitri Kalinin had a pair of goals and the scoring was rounded off by 4 different goal scorers. Derek Roy, Maxim Afinogenov, James Patrick and Chris Taylor all contributed one in the big win over the Blue Jackets.

Goalie Martin Biron didn't have much work, but was impressive when tested as he made 23 saves in earning the shutout. It was also his 100th career NHL victory.

The Islanders and Sabres both have 3 games left and 3 points separate the teams. The Isles lost on Sunday to the Devils making the odds for Buffalo just a little better. The Isles must gather 4 points in their 3 games to clinch the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres have to run the table and hope for some outside intervention.

"They've got to be feeling a little heat now," put in Sabres coach Lindy Ruff after the game on Monday. "We want to put a lot of pressure on them."

It has been March Madness for the Sabres as they have gone 8-2-1-3 to close out the month.

"There's a lot of stress and anxiety involved,'' said Sabres defenseman Jay McKee. "We've just got to keep this thing going, our goal is to win out."

Wild Ride

The Sabres have been on a roller coaster ride all season and this last month has been the most thrilling part of it all. Last week they beat Montreal 2-1. Biron was close getting a shutout in that game too, but a perfect backhand by Michael Ryder somehow reached the top far corner with under six minutes to go.

Then the Sabres had back-to-back games with the Penguins last weekend. Pittsburgh has had Buffalo's number the past few years, but the Sabres broke out of that easily Friday night with a 5-1 win over the Pens in front of a huge throng of 18,333.

Jay McKee, Daniel Briere, Maxim Afinogenov, Chris Drury and Andrew Peters figured in the scoring. However, the next night, the Pens came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game at 2-2. The Sabres could have used that extra point they lost, but with the Devils helping them out the next night by beating the Isles, the Sabres suddenly are knocking on the playoff door.

Ruff and Regier get the vote of confidence

Larry Quinn put his stamp of approval on the job that both Ruff and Sabres GM Darcy Regier are doing. It shocked a lot of the media and fans when Quinn complimented them for doing a "wonderful job." A lot of fans have been calling for the heads of both men, especially Regier, who has not been noted for wheeling and dealing during the months of October-February when the team could use a little jolt.

"It's hard to find fault with anything they have done," Quinn said last week. "There isn't anything anyone can point to that Lindy didn't do. I think he did a wonderful job. Darcy's got a contract and has done a great job. He's built the team well for the future.

"The only way these guys wouldn't be back is if they came to me and said they just don't have the energy for it anymore, they just don't have the stomach for it anymore, and I don't think that's going to happen."

Then Quinn used political double talk to call the Sabres a "playoff team."

"I look at our team for what it is," remarked Quinn. "I think it's a playoff team. There just may be circumstances we don't make it this year."

There has been a lot of debate in Buffalo following Quinn's remarks. It should make for some lively dialectic during the offseason.

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