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Sabres Central

Sabres break out with some Holiday Cheer
By Rick Anderson
December 27, 2003

Sabres goalie Mika Noronen, makes a sliding save on Josef Vasicek in Buffalo's 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Sabres defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick comes in to help out during the play.
[Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images]

Lindy Ruff is breathing a little easier these days. His players gave him a Christmas present that may have saved his job, for the rest of 2003 anyway.

After losing seven straight games, which included four straight at home, the Buffalo Sabres tied Ottawa Tuesday and then beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 Friday night.

Ruff's coaching position was on life support before these last two games. While it may be premature to take him off the respirator, Ruff's and his team's vital signs are showing some improvement and it is not necessary to give them their last rights just yet.

The Sabres took baby steps in getting out of a losing streak that tied the all-time team record for futility. Against the Senators Tuesday night, the Sabres came out an took an early 2-0 lead. But as has been the case too many times this year, the Sabres surrendered a very late goal at the end of the first period. Even before the score was announced on the PA system in HSBC Arena, the Sens scored their second to tie it up. Lightning struck twice in half a minute.

With a minute and a tick left on the clock, Sabres goalie Mika Noronen flopped to the ice too soon to block a shot and Todd White flipped it over the fallen goalie. Thirty seconds later, Antoine Vermette sent a long shot that got past Noronen and the game was suddenly tied. Noronen looked pretty shaky on those two goals but he settled down for the third period and the overtime to forge the tie at 2-2.

Victory at last!

The last time the Sabres sniffed victory was way back on December 3 when they beat the Blackhawks in Chicago. Since then, the Sabres took a nose dive down the standings and solidified themselves in last place in the Northeastern Division.

The Sabres were weary of the Hurricanes coming into Buffalo. Images of Penguins were dancing in their heads as they remembered how the lowly Pittsburgh Penguins came into Buffalo and beat the Sabres just last week. Two weeks ago, they lost to the Rangers on home ice, so the Sabres knew that they would have to play impeccable hockey against the Hurricanes to get their first win in 23 games.

The first two periods were scoreless and the fans thought the game would end that way. However Ales Kotalik finally lit the lamp for the Sabres with 3:09 gone in the third period. It was a powerplay goal and Kotalik's 9th of the season. Dmitri Kalinin got the pass to Kotalik who was positioned near the corner of the net, got it past Kevin Weekes on the far side. The Sabres had gone 0-for-17 on the powerplay since that goal.

Taylor Pyatt got the Sabres up 2-0 with just under 8 minutes left in the game. Miroslav Satan started the play off when he got a shot off from the point and Pyatt was parked in front of the net and the rebound came right to him. He blasted it past Weekes and the Sabres had a huge 2-0 lead with time winding down.

Noronen had his shutout bid quashed when Sean Hill got one through traffic from a shot from before the right faceoff circle with just 5:38 remaining. Chris Taylor picked up an empty net goal to ice the Hurricanes.

Ruff praised Noronen, who made 30 saves against Carolina.

"We had very good goaltending tonight." praised Ruff. "That will get us back in the picture. There was a little bit of run-and-gun hockey going on. He made some key saves at key times."

Roy gets his chance

Rookie Derek Roy, who has been in the Sabres lineup for a week, scored his first NHL goal against the Senators. Not only that, but he used some razzle dazzle when he stick-handled the puck while sitting on the ice, making a pass that wowed the fans. Roy, who has been the last player to be sent down to Rochester after training camp the past two years, is finally getting his chance to show his stuff.

"He was awesome. I was very impressed with his effort and the number of plays he made in the game," lauded Ruff.

The Sabres will need some exciting play from Roy to get the Sabres offense clicking. With the forwards all in a funk this year, Roy may add some needed spark. Buffalo will need more from Roy now that J.P. Dumont will be out of the lineup for at least a week. Dumont injured his hip during the first period against the Hurricanes and had to be helped off the ice after being down for several minutes.

It was actually a couple of plays that caused damage to Dumont's hip. First he fell on his hip and then was taken down by Aaron Ward a while later. Dumont originally thought that this was a season-ending injury.

"It was really scary out there," recalled Dumont. "But when the doctor told me it wasn't out, that was good news."

Dumont talked about the two plays that did him in.

"The shift before, I sort of dove and fell on my hip," described Dumont. "I thought it was just a bruise but the shift after that it wasn't really a big hook, but I tried to twist away to move and I thought I felt something pop out."

Chris Drury, who was out a few weeks with a shoulder separation, makes his comeback just in time as he is slated to return to action when the Sabres go to Carolina to take on the Hurricanes again.

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