Happy New Year from HSBC Arena as the Sabres try to break a major hex against an opponent tonight. Nope, the Ottawa Senators aren't here. It's the Atlanta Thrashers, the team perhaps most responsible for Buffalo not making the playoffs last year. The Sabres were 0-0-4 against Le Thrash last season -- losing three games in overtime and a fourth in a shootout against a team that finished 13th in the East. The Sabres dropped their last game in 07-08 against Atlanta also in OT and fell here on Oct. 17 by a 4-2 count.
So that makes the Sabres an unsightly 0-1-5 in their last six against the Thrashers (in the bizarre world of NHL standings, Atlanta is 6-0 in its last six against Buffalo). Another loss tonight would equal the seven games against Ottawa (0-5-2) for Buffalo's longest current skid.
The good news is that the Thrashers have been brutal of late. They're 4-10-1 in their last 15 games after a 14-7-3 start. They're 0-5-1 in their last six and have dropped all four games thus far on their current road, which is a seven-gamer that finishes on Long Island and at Pittsburgh.
The Sabres need to take advantage on special teams tonight as the Atlanta is 2 for 20 in the last six games and its penalty killers are just 10 for 18 in the same stretch. They'll have a tough road against goatender Johan Hedberg, who is 11-2-1 against them lifetime (not counting his four wins in the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinal series with Pittsburgh). Newly named U.S. Olympian Ryan Miller will be in goal for the Sabres -- believe it or not, he's 0-1-1 in his last three games.
The Sabres have just a three-point lead in the Northeast Division standing over Boston as the Bruins closed the gap with today's 2-1 overtime victory over Philadelphia outdoors at Fenway Park. Boston was less than 2 1/2 minutes away from losing that one and staying five points back of Buffalo before rallying for the win. After tonight, both teams will have played 40 games.
OT: Sometimes deadline kills you when the game goes overtime. Sorry about that folks. Sabres won it, 4-3, on Roy's fluke goal with 57.7 seconds left in OT. First time in franchise history they've won back-to-back games by overcoming a three-goal deficit.
17:41 left: Another comeback in the offing? It's 3-2 as Connolly blisters home a snapshot on a Hecht feed. Hard to figure this team out.
15:45 left: Connolly has been all over the place in this period. Takes a big hit, gets the puck to Adam Mair and Mair trickles one through Hedberg for his long-awaited first of the season to tie the game.
12:50 left: Antropov mugs Connolly behind the Buffalo net and Mair jumps in as a good teammate -- but also gets an extra two minutes.
11:00 left: They've just changed the tying goal to Hecht -- his second of the night -- and taken it away from Mair.
9:48 left: Lydman gone for interference as White topples over him in the Buffalo zone. Miller wasn't happy with the call.
4:41 left: Shots are 7-3 for Buffalo in this period. Still tied at 3-3. When was the last time an NHL team won back-to-back games wiping out 3-0 deficits? The way scoring goes these days, bet it's been a looooong time.
1:51 left: That task got tougher as Hecht gets called for tripping Antropov. How about a dive too?
On to OT: Crowd roars at the horn as Sabres wrap up one point. Afinogenov nearly got in alone on Miller in the final 10 seconds but lost the puck. Shots are 9-4 for Buffalo in the third and 31-22 for the Thrashers in the game.
Of note: Montador has 1:27 left in his penalty. Sabres have been outshot, 62-20, in last five first periods -- and 39-7 in last three first periods at home.
14:40 left: Miller robs Todd White from in front. Shots are 16-4. Memo to Sabres: You have slept through the first 25 minutes. New Year's Eve is over. Wake up.
12:28 left: Crowd wakes up with a big "Let's Go, Buffalo" chant. Lifeless night in here.
11:03 left: Sabres' best chance of the night is a MacArthur slapshot that Hedberg gets a piece of deflects into the crowd. Five shots on goal in 29 minutes is patently brutal.
10:04 left: The Thrashers finally break through as Miller makes two saves and Kovalchuk finally bangs in the third shot as he beat Connolly to the puck. Shots are 22-6 and Atlanta has a much-deserved lead.
8:08 left: Shot 23 goes in too as Evander Kane has a tap-in after a perfect pass from Anssi Salmela somehow got under Montador. 2-0. The boos have started.
7:06 left: Maybe this is the break the Sabres needed. Too many men on the ice on the Thrashers.
5:00 left: Three shots on the power play. Two good saves by Hedberg. Hey, they got to 10 shots on goal. Only took 35 minutes.
3:37 left: Roy takes a hooking penalty in the neutral zone.
3:31 left: Only took six seconds for the Sabres to fall asleep. White's perfect pass provides a tap-in for Bryan Little that makes it 3-0. Three goals on Atlanta's last four shots.
2:51 left: The Sabres get on the board as Hecht backhands a loose puck home to make it 3-1.
1:54 left: Another too many men on the ice penalty on the Thrashers. Crowd has gotten a kick out of Afinogenov serving both bench minors.
End-2nd: Hedberg stops Stafford just before the horn at the end of a brutal power play. It's 3-1 through two. Shots were 17-11 in that period and 27-13 through 40 minutes.
14:56 left: We'll give you updates when something happens. Nothing's going on so far. Thrashers have the game's only shot. Maxim Afinogenov getting booed when he touches the puck.
14:05 left: Roy already has neck problems and he just got drilled into the end boards by Marty Reasoner on a dangerous cross check. Reasoner is lucky it's just two minutes. Roy appears OK as he starts the power play on the point.
11:56 left: No shots on a nothing power play. Nice scoreboard salute introducing the Sabres' Olympians. Big cheer for Ruff and a huge roar for Miller.
9:42 left: The Sabres' only shot was a floater from the left boards by Ellis that was gloved by Hedberg with 14:29 to. The Thrashers have three. The lines are Hecht-Connolly-Pominville, MacArthur-Gaustad-Stafford, Grier-Kennedy-Vanek and Ellis-Roy-Mair. The defense pairs remain Butler-Rivet, Myers-Tallinder, Lydman-Montador.
8:01 left: Miller's first great save as an Olympian comes on a clear break by Ilya Kovalchuk, who took a bad MacArthur pass and pulled away from an out-of-position Myers. Kovalchuk tried to go five-hole, just like he did to beat Miller in OT last April in Atlanta. No dice.
6:37 left: Rivet goes for slashing. Pretty foolish penalty knocking the stick out of Evander Kane's hands.
3:10 left: Miller stopped three shots on the power play, the best being a Kovalchuk one-timer on a slap shot from the left circle. Sabres being outshot, 8-2, in another completely nondescript first period.
33.0 seconds left: Terrible giveaway by Connolly gives Reasoner a good chance but Miller makes the stop. It results in a hooking penalty on Montador.
End-1st: Sabres survive another do-nothing first period in a scoreless tie. Shots are 10-2. Just at the buzzer, Nik Antropov goes after Gaustad and the pair grapple briefly after Gaustad bumps Kovalchuk. No word yet on any penalties.