Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Statement Made: Sabres overcome 3-goal deficit versus Pens

Sometimes, there are those games which define you. For this year's Sabres, that came tonight versus the defending champs at HSBC. They fell behind three with the skilled Pens chasing probable USA starter Ryan Miller. However, it didn't matter thanks to Drew Stafford and Patrick Lalime, who sparked a great emotional comeback for a 4-3 win, finishing off the 2009 with a bang.

This was quite a statement by Lindy Ruff's club, who rebounded from a miserable first that saw them outshot 10-4, falling behind by two thanks to goals from Jordan Staal and Bill Guerin. Early in the second, it didn't get any better when Chris Kunitz scored his sixth from Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis only 88 seconds in putting Buffalo in a three-goal hole. At that point, Miller's night was done. He permitted three on 11 shots as Lalime replaced him. Following an AHL stint, the veteran who once took the Sens within a game of the Cup Final has been better since, winning two of three starts while nearly backstopping the Sabres past the same Penguins 10 days ago in a 2-1 gimmick loss. Here was a chance for redemption but he needed some support and got it from Stafford.

A healthy scratch at St. Louis, the third-year winger responded by ending a 15-game goal drought, tallying twice in a 2:09 span to get Buffalo back in it. The first came via a momentum shifting penalty shot, which was delayed in itself, due to a lengthy Toronto review on whether he scored previously on Marc-Andre Fleury. While they took time deciding the puck wasn't in, Stafford skated back and forth like a figure skater as comically described by legendary tandem Rick Jeanneret and Harry Neale. When the big moment finally came, he didn't waste any time, quickly beating Fleury five-hole to put the Sabres on the board at 12:46. Apparently, teammate Chris Butler knew where he was going and informed bench reporter Rob Ray, who was only too pleased to tell the audience after the big goal.

Suddenly alive, the Sabres took the play to the Pens, drawing even closer when Stafford got his second consecutive goal from Clarke MacArthur and Tim Kennedy, cutting it to 3-2 with 5:05 left in the stanza. While Stafford was taking care of the offense, Lalime was keeping the Pens at bay turning aside all 18 shots in a more active second that saw the clubs combine for 34 shots (Pit-19, Buf-15).

Down just one, Buffalo came all the way back thanks to a great rush by Stafford which resulted in a goal. Taking a pass from MacArthur, he flew down the right wing skating around Pen defenders before wisely flipping a feed across which Paul Gaustad buried with a backhand, tying the score with 12:32 remaining. Following a couple of key Lalime saves, Craig Adams got nabbed for boarding in the offensive zone, handing the hosts a power play. It took only 50 seconds for them to capitalize when Jason Pominville came out into the slot and wired a shot top shelf for his 10th. Tim Connolly and rookie Tyler Myers netted assists.

Now ahead, the Sabres played tactically against a dangerous opponent who tried to turn it on. The Pens buzzed on one shift with two and a half left but couldn't beat Lalime despite great pressure from Crosby and Co. Despite outshooting Buffalo 9-5 (38-24 overall), they didn't get anymore glorious opportunities with perhaps the best a Kris Letang shot which sailed wide with over two minutes to go. With Fleury pulled for an extra and both Sid The Kid and Evgeny Malkin out searching for the equalizer, the Sabres stood up to them with Gaustad taking Staal off the ice for matching slashes with 26 ticks left. No play further illustrated this than Myers clean takeout of Geno during a puck battle behind his own net with over 10 secs remaining. The kind of physical play that garners attention. One of our good buddies over at Twitter BanginPanger agreed.:

@BattleOfNewYork I've been critical of the fellatio of Myers, buttttttttt tonight, that was as good a game a Sabres d-man has played in ever
Pretty accurate assessment from a Panger fan. Who doesn't love Pang? We even kinda worked with him back at Bristol when ESPN actually still cared. I was one of those stat researchers for Remote Production. Fun days! The real Panger is also on there and can be followed as well.

As for the game's conclusion, one more Sabre clear off a faceoff was enough to finish off the best win of the season. When the buzzer sounded, a bunch of happy Sabres mobbed Lalime even kinda dancing and laughing. It meant plenty. I know the Pens have lost all three to the Devils in Pitt and try again in Newark tomorrow but this was a great victory for Buffalo because it shows that they mean business. Something even our Buffalo contingent can't ignore. ;-) Statement made!

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Jordan Staal, Pit (goal, 4 SOG, 8-9 draws, 4 PIM, +2 in 17:17)
2nd Star-Patrick Lalime, Buf (27 saves incl.18/18 in 2nd in relief)
1st Star-Drew Stafford, Buf (2 goals incl.PS snapping 15-gm goal drought, assist, team high 5 SOG, +2 in 15:05)

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