EDMONTON -- Hello from Rexall Place, which fittingly is named after a pharmacy chain. Fitting why? Because I feel worse than a Sabres defenseman. The flu is destroying me, but oh well. I'll suck it up. Besides, a little far away to call in sick and have someone else pinch-hit.
So this is my first visit to Edmonton, and it's one of the final stops on my NHL tour as a writer. In the seven seasons covering the Sabres, I've been everywhere but here, Calgary (which I go to right after tonight's game), Vancouver and Nashville. Well, I've been to Nashville, but that had nothing to do with hockey (crazy night while driving from Spring Break in Panama City to the Final Four in Indianapolis. Good times, good times.).
Anyway, was a little worried this place would let me down as I pulled up this morning. The outside is a lot like Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, which is the biggest dump any major sports team can inhabit. But thankfully, my fears subsided as soon as I walked in. It has a few of the modern amenities common now (ribbon boards, nice scoreboard) that Long Island lacks, but the treat is the ceiling.
There's not many places where you can look up and see retired jerseys of legends such as Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson. Or where you can look on the other side and see five Stanley Cup banners. Or where you can walk outside and see a statue of Gretzky holding the Cup. (The Islanders
Hope the game matches the building and not my health.
8:58 p.m.: I've now moved three times because we have a new candidate for worst PR staff in league. There's no seating list for press box, and the first two people who picked seats for me were obviously mistaken as I had to move for the regulars.
9 p.m.: Also, the lights have been off up here for about 20 minutes, so if there's a tpyo, you can blame them.
9:08 p.m.: Game on, and Sabres lead just 10 seconds in. Thomas Vanek forces turnover, and Drew Stafford beats Dwayne Roloson at 19:50. As you'll read in Wednesday's notebook and likely recall anyway, this is a special place for Stafford and Vanek. It's the team that made Vanek rich, and Stafford's uncle Barrie is Edmonton's equipment manager.
9:11 p.m.: Nathan Paetsch, a western Canadian, makes it 2-0 just 1:11 in. Clarke MacArthur beats Steve Staios to the puck in corner to set up the defenseman in the slot.
9:14 p.m.: PR staff comes to life in fine fashion with announcements regarding records for fastest goal and fastest two goals by Oilers opponent. Still, would be nice if I knew where I was supposed to be sitting instead of looking over my shoulder every time someone walks by. (OK, I'll stop whining now.)
9:26 p.m.: Sabres' D rallies to take over the illness battle. Craig Rivet takes a kick to the, um, yeah ... there, by Dustin Penner. He's in pain, but goes to bench instead of dressing room.
9:27 p.m.: Roloson also goes to bench, as the Sabres take a 3-0 lead 10:17 in. Edmonton defense is awful as Derek Roy slides through middle and buries Paetsch's pass from slot.
Again, kudos to Steve Knowles, Oilers information coordinator, on announcing anything a writer could need.
9:42 p.m.: Paetsch is paired with Marc-Andre Gragnani, the rookie playing his third NHL game but first as a defenseman.
9:46 p.m.: End of first period, Sabres lead, 3-0. Oilers hold an 18-11 edge in shots but have yet to beat Ryan Miller.
10:05 p.m.: Just 2:02 into the period, it's 4-0 Buffalo. Roy forces turnover, gets puck to Jochen Hecht, who slides return pass from Jason Pominville under goalie Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. Oilers are terrible in their own zone. TERRIBLE.
10:13 p.m.: Oilers have their 137th regular-season sellout in a row with 16,839, but it's quiet as would be expected by their lousy start and showing.
10:19 p.m.: Sabres in midst of five-on-three power play.
10:20 p.m.: Make that a four-on-three for 48 seconds as Roy high-sticks.
10:22 p.m.: Impressive back-to-back plays as Miller sticks out pad to stop Kyle Brodziak and Vanek undresses Steve Staios but is stopped by Oilers goalie.
10:27 p.m.: Oilers scored on power play with 6:37 left as Erik Cole sneaks one by Miller from right faceoff circle.
10:31 p.m.: Sabres waste no time answering with their own power-play goal, as Tim Connolly roofs pass from Vanek.
10:38 p.m.: May as well start driving to Calgary. This game can write itself, as the fans who are celebrating the "last minute of play" announcement can attest. Vanek and Jaroslav Spacek score as the Sabres close the period with a 7-1 lead. That's right, 7-1!
11:16 p.m.: We've got 7:30 left, and it's 8-1 Buffalo as Stafford scores again.
Oops, it's 7:20 left, it's 9-1, and Stafford has a hat trick!
Said Stafford: "This is like the cutest story of the year. How funny is that? What a joke."
Said Lindy Ruff: "We got a real good effort out of our defense. Our forwards did a great job of coming back and supporting and helping them out, but I thought that core six guys did a real good job."
Said Nathan Paetsch: "Everything went right for us."
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