(WECK 1230) — In a form quite different than truth being stranger than fiction, sometimes tradition outweighs being a smart guy.
Tell me now, oh brilliant ones, how having a reliable goaltender is a way of the past. Tell me how a coach willing to pull his No. 1 netminder 20 minutes into a playoff campaign and 20 minutes into the first time his team sees a threat is a genius tactician.
No, Game Five was just one more step toward reinforcing what hockey holds dear: more often than not, goaltending wins playoff series and faith in a squad of players goes a lot further than spur of the moment motivational techniques.
Almost regardless of what happens in Games Six and Seven should there be one, give me Ryan Miller and Lindy Ruff.
— Predict a more unlikely trio of celebrants than those pictured above. On the left is the former first-round pick written off as childish and non-professional, unwilling to use his big frame for the purpose the hockey overlords commissioned it. To the right, the bruiser signalled — even by this humbled author — as overpaid because the star goaltender wanted him around. In the middle, the overmatched rookie suffering through a sophomore playoff slump.
This team isn’t built to win playoff games, they just are. Drew Stafford is playing like Adam Graves with speed. His performance in this series has been as eye-opening as any in Sabres history. Paul Gaustad has been more than a face-off man, instead taking his skill in the circle to another level in both ends of the rink. Personally, I may stop calling him “Teen Heart-throb” if he’s willing to quit with the “Bilbo Baggins” blasts. Finally, there’s Tyler Ennis, just another in a long line of “too small” leprechauns bringing luck to the Sabres.
They may not be the “Hardest Working Team in Hockey,” but they sure are giving Stu Barnes and Co. a run for their money.
— Creative use of language aside, I defy you to tell me that one year ago you’d think — basically — the same group of lads who plod heartless through an upset by the Bruins would show more guts and gumption than so many others. Several times in this series they had moments when they would’ve fall apart in years past. Just as Ryan Miller stoned Daniel Briere — it had to be him, didn’t it? — in Game Five, Briere gave the Sabres their next challenge come Game Six. After building a three-goal lead and chasing another starting goaltender, there was Briere — had to be him, right? — to complete a three-goal comeback in Philly. You’re on the road and tied at two despite being the No. 7 seed and you give back a three-goal lead? Dead, right?
These guys might not be great, but they also might be fine if they can get to the next round and grab a center or two from the ranks of their injured.
Honestly… start thinking, “Why not?” instead of “Why?” Two teams have coughed up three-goal leads in the first round of the playoffs. One won. That means something.
— Back to the goaltending thing. Brian Boucher allowed two of the most horrendous goals in this series and then Peter Laviolette decided the play was his third-string rebound machine. Dear goodness! Sergei Bobrovsky, Boucher and now Michael Leighton have basically played with trampolines for leg pads. I simply cannot believe given two games to do it, that Miller won’t win Game Six or Game Seven.
— Say something nice about the Flyers: Claude Giroux is one incredible hockey player. Too bad Philly was smart enough to lock him up on a super cap-friendly deal.
— Man’s game: Gaustad won 17-of-24 face-offs.
— Not-so-much: Tim Connolly might as well be “Hollow Man.” Besides being rough to watch, the star is all-but-invisible.
— With Jason Pominville out, here’s hoping Ruff doesn’t just plug in Mark Mancari, who the Sabres have several on the roster already. The call-up has to be a center like Luke Adam or Paul Byron. Both have been more impressive than Mancari with the big club this year.
— This post was a little late because I was watching Mike Cline Jr. host a comedy show out in Kenmore. So, I’ll finish with a little joke. Peter Laviolette walks into a bar with Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton as his goaltending options for an elimination game.
Three Stars of the Game
For once, the media in the Philly press box got it exactly.
1. Tyler Ennis — scored twice, including the game-winner
2. Thomas Vanek — bull in a china shop was basically begging to get his second all-night
3. Claude Giroux — making gap-toothed hockey sexy.
Stat line I liked…
Sabres special teams: 1-2 PP, 4-4 PK
– One heck of a recipe.
Stat line I didn’t like…
Chris Butler, minus-2, 2 PIM
— He was second on the team in ice time, but first in mistakes. Another lack of focus mistake cost the Sabres a goal. Sure, Mike Richards fed a heck of a saucer to Briere, but you can’t get away with “wet ice” twice in a series.
Two chances for Miller to be better than one of three rebound machines. I like Buffalo’s chances a lot.
Monday: On-the-air from 12-3 p.m. — streaming at www.weck1230.com — and hopefully previewing Caps/Sabres.