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(WECK 1230) — An image:
Image One: That’s a rookie play by youngster Chris Butler, who isn’t quite a rookie. This is not the Buffalo Sabres team that featured a veteran defensive unit last year, when old guard Hank Tallinder and Toni Lydman may have not been the best players in hockey, but contained poise on the back end. Again, they were beaten, but less often than this year’s young unit. This isn’t a “Darcy didn’t keep the right vets call,” but it’s a facet of this team that needs to grow.
Image Two: That’s Jordan Leopold, he of the 49 registered hits this year. This is not the Buffalo Sabres team we derided less than 365 days ago for being softer than a kitten named Snuggles. The entire team is unpredictable in good and bad ways. I wouldn’t predict a win nor a loss in Game Seven, but I’d predict a gutty effort with occasional massive gaffes and a couple magnificent plays.
That said, they really blew a major opportunity today, one they may lament all the way into October.
– Mike Weber made a couple real nice hits, but both he and Chris Butler were something awful in some many key situations. You can knock Butler for the game-winner as well as two penalties, and Weber was a brutal minus-3.
– Mike Richards should be suspended for his hit from behind of Tim Connolly, but won’t be. Between him and Scott Hartnell, I’m not sure who I have lost more respect for in this series. Both were guys I would’ve killed to have as Sabres coming into the series. Now both are guys I want killed — hockey killed — in Game Seven.
– I’m going to get yelled at for this, but the team is missing Andrej Sekera. No. 44 is quietly very responsible in his own end.
– As an aside, Toni Lydman’s plus-32 is one of the two most legit in the NHL leaders in plus/minus along with St. Louis forward David Backes and Chicago blueliner Brian Campbell. While there are a litany of Bruins, Canucks and Flyers among the Top Twenty, the aformentioned three are generally on their own amongst teammates.
– How cool was the “Mil-ler! Mil-ler! Mil-ler!” chant with about 12 minutes to go? You know your team’s fandom is at full throat when the cheers actually move away from ripping the opposition toward saluting your own. Well-done, fans.
– The Flyers fourth goal was a tough one to stomach because the Sabres’ desperation and desire is what cost them. Miller was sliding across when his skate hit the crouching Gaustad, slowing the ‘tender’s momentum and altering the angle of his leg pad. Nice hustle from Goose, but the Sabres needed one less hand on deck there.
– I’d have a hard time picking either of these teams in the second round coming off this series.
– Good looks to Chris Butler and Marc-Andre Gragnani on their goal-saving stops in the first frame.
– Love Tyler Myers finding his inner antagonist all series long. If Danny Briere is going to line-up next to you and slash you, put a little faux-lumber in his teeth. Let him know you’re there. Kid’s going to be a meast. Actually, he already is.
– I constantly stress how much I dislike Danny Briere, but he is having a massive series. I don’t need to tell you that, but he is constantly in the right offensive position and finishes nearly every check that presents itself. He could’ve scored eight today.
– I feel for Thomas Vanek. He continues to attempt to put this team on his back yet his price tag will always have fans over-analyzing all of his mistakes instead of accentuating his successes. Even worse? He didn’t even demand the money (not that he was complaining). Vanek has seven goals in his last nine playoff games including one on a wonky ankle when he was one of maybe three forwards to show up in Game Five versus Boston. What I’m saying is Lindy Ruff needs to ‘C’ him after the season.
Three Stars of the Game
1. Daniel Briere — Easy to hate, easier to applaud. Gutty, clutch performance (2G)
2. Thomas Vanek — seven goals in last nine playoff games
3. Brian Boucher — Would’ve been easy for him to crack all things considered (25 shots, 24 saves)
Stat line I liked…
Sabres face-off percentage, 56%
– They did very well on key face-offs for the most part, too.
Stat line I didn’t like…
Brad Boyes, three shots in nearly 13 minutes
– In a serious slump. With Pominville, Hecht and now Connolly gone, the entire Sabres fan base will be staring at the 2011 deadline acquisition. No pressure.
Can we skip the second period Tuesday, regardless of what happens in the first?
Monday: On-the-air from 12-3 p.m. — streaming at www.weck1230.com — and reporting any news we get concerning injuries and call-ups. Call in at 716.783.9325