Greetings from high atop HSBC Arena as we get set for tonight's Sabres-Sharks game. From this view, this is one the NHL schedule is gift-wrapping for the Sabres and they have to seize these two points. The Sharks are in the final game of a five-game trip and certainly are happy with three wins thus far. It's their third game in four nights and the second of a back-to-back after a shootout win last night in Philly. They've only won once in Buffalo in their previous 19 NHL seasons, a bizarre stat to say the least.
And the Sabres need every point they can get. Props to them for climbing from 15th in the East to ninth in basically a month. But Tuesday's overtime loss in Boston shows how difficult getting into the top eight can be. Buffalo is seven points out with 26 points (Boston, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and the New York Rangers all have 33). The Sabres were seven minutes away from a regulation win in Boston and instead suffered an overtime loss.
They could have been four points out with that regulation win (they would have had 27 points and Boston would have had 31). Instead, Buffalo got one point and Boston got two. That's a three-point swing over nine minutes of play. Huge. Shows the perils of three-point games in your conference.
Onward to tonight. Antti Niemi, Chicago's Stanley Cup hero, will start in goal for the Sharks. He's not having a great year at all (5-6-1, 3.33, .890) but he has played three of the four games on this trip. Niemi has never met Buffalo but got the call over Antero Nittymaki, last night's winner. Easy to see why: Nittymaki is 0-3-2, 4.33, .851 in his career against Buffalo.
Sabres starters: Gerbe-Roy-Vanek-Myers-Sekera. Goal: Miller
Sharks starters: Marleau-Thornton-Heatley-Murray-Boyle. Goal: Niemi
Of note: Gerbe leads Sabres with four shots on goal. Heatley and Thornton have just one shot for San Jose. Big guns in teal and white not the problem tonight. Vlasic's first point of the season. Clowe and Couture have two points each.
8:57 p.m.: We're under way.
19:29 left: THAT is how you kill momentum. Gaustad steals puck in the corner on a brutally weak play by Marleau, gets it out front to McCormick who tips it over Niemi's shoulder. Sabres lead, 4-2. And after the change on the first goal, THAT is McCormick's fourth.
15:30 left: Shots are 31-20. Another game with 30+ shots. This team is having no trouble generating chances. Good to see four go in tonight.
14:51 left: Miller stones Thornton on breakaway and stops Douglas Murray on a hard wrister from the point. Huge stops to keep the two-goal lead intact.
10:34 left: Jeez. Murray pounds home a sizzler past Miller's glove. A Shark crossed in front of him but you'd still like that save made. Sabres lead, 4-3.
9:25 left: Miller stops Couture from in tight. The rookie has easily been the best Shark tonight. The stars have done almost nothing.
5:44 left: Sabres holding on. Shots are 8-6 for Sharks in the third. Can Buffalo really preserve a one-goal lead for 10 1/2 minutes against this team?
2:22 left: Sabres just did a great job of getting the puck deep in San Jose end to kill three minutes without a whistle. Hecht, Grier and Gerbe chief among those getting the puck in.
1:38 left: Niemi stops McCormick. Great shift by McCormick, Gaustad and Grier.
26.6 left: Gaustad gets the empty-netter. Gaustad and McCormick have been the best two Sabres on the ice all night. A fitting finish. Sabres lead, 5-3. Super job over the last five minutes to protect the lead.
8.7 left: Vanek from Roy on a 2-on-1 to make it 6-3. His second of the night.
It's over: A 6-3 win. Final shots 37-29.
Of note: John McCarthy (who?) had four shots for the Sharks in the first period. Patrick Marleau had two while Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton had none. Gerbe the only Sabre with two.
7:59 p.m: We're under way.
18:31 left: Miller robs Ryane Clowe after stud rookie Logan Couture strips Leopold in the corner and feeds it to the slot.
17:35 left: Thornton for holding. Sabres' first power play. They're 5 for 10 the last two home games.
16:29 left: Niemi robs Mancari from the slot on the rebound of a Myers shot.
15:25 left: More great chances stopped, including one by Pominville and another that Pominville couldn't get the one-timer on his stick.
14:55 left: Niemi stops Kaleta on a 2-on-1 with Ennis. Shots suddenly 7-2 for the Sabres. Five on that power play.
13:12 left: You don't give Thomas Vanek two walk-into slapshots from the slot in about five seconds and not pay for it. The Sharks just did and Vanek didn't miss with No. 2, pounding home his 12th of the year to give the Sabres a 2-0 lead.
11:53 left: Another solid glove save by Niemi on Gerbe. Shots are 13-2 in this period. You can really see the Sharks fading fast. One more goal and this baby is over.
11:17 left: The first goal is changed to Gaustad from McCormick. Hit Gaustad's skate. He gets credit for his second of the year -- and second in the last 41 games.
7:47 left: Adam for high sticking. Second straight game he's drawn an unintentional one. Kid has to watch that.
6:34 left: Pominville steals the puck from Jason Demers and has a breakaway from the Sabres line in. Quick snapshot, 3-0. Good night, I'm thinking. Strange thing about it was he was in the penalty box as officials incorrectly sent him there. James Patrick was the first Sabres coach to wave at officials and Lindy Ruff followed to get the call changed to Adam before the faceoff. It was clearly Adam. Second short-handed goal of the season.
4:46 left: Sabres too many men on the ice.
4:10 left: I know. I know. You're gonna blame me. Couture rips in a wrist shot past Miller for his 14th of the year to make it 3-1. Impressive rookie.
1:50 left: Pominville off the post and then just misses a one-timer a few seconds later that would have made it 4-1.
45.0 left: Problem with this game is Sabres had exactly my thought. Couture gets it in the slot and Marc-Edouard Vlasic gets his first. Sabres lead cut to 3-2.
End-2nd: Sabres only lead 3-2 despite 18-8 edge in shots. It's 27-20 for Buffalo through two. Sharks came back from three down last night in Philly. Can they really do it again? Now the Sharks think they're back in it. And they are. Problem.
7:08 p.m: The puck is dropped.
16:48 left: The Sabres have run out all four lines. Gaustad just had their first chance, a point-blank opportunity after a neat McCormick feed from the corner that was tipped just wide.
14:50 left: The lines are Gerbe-Roy-Vanek, Ennis-Hecht-Kaleta, Mancari-Adam-Pominville and McCormick-Gaustad-Grier. No change on defense: Sekera-Myers, Leopold-Montador-Butler-Weber.
13:30 left: Solid shift by the Roy line. Niemi made a good save on Gerbe and beat Vanek to the right post to stymie a wraparound from behind the goal. Shots are 3-2 for San Jose.
11:28 left: Weber goes for delay of game (puck over the glass). Pominville is arguing otherwise. Not a good thing to happen to Weber in the wake of Tuesday's back-breaking gaffe in Boston. Not good to give this San Jose PP a chance: Sharks are sixth overall (22.4 percent) and fifth on the road (20.8).
10:43 left: Great set play off the faceoff by the Sharks but Pavelski fires wide. Buffalo takes the miss and heads down on a 2-on-1 (Grier-Gaustad). Grier fires way high and wide. Gotta hit the net there.
8:04 left: Sabres have not shown the jump they wanted off the start of this one against what should be a tired San Jose team. And you can already see the Sharks' fatigue issues: Their forwards are not getting back at all and the Sabres have had some good 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 chances. You'd think that would multiply as the night goes on. Of course, Buffalo has to hit the net too. Shots are 6-2 for San Jose.
7:52 left: Niemi's best save, on Adam from in tight.
7:42 left: Sabres take a 1-0 lead on a fluky flutterball over Niemi's glove. McCormick gets it off Boyle's arm after Gaustad draws the faceoff back in the left circle.
5:16 left: McCormick continues to contribute both physically and on the scoresheet. He's got four goals, which is more than Hecht (3), Kaleta (3), Pominville (2), Grier (2) and Gaustad (1). No one figured that during training camp.
3:45 left: Niemi with a nice glove stop on Gerbe, who is still goalless in his 19th game. MSG replay of the goal apparently shows puck hit Gaustad's skate first bfeore hitting Boyle. So expect a change there.
End-1st: In front of a library-quiet crowd (WHAT IS UP, PEOPLE?), the Sabres have a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes as the Sharks have a 12-9 edge in shots. I really have no idea what the deal is here. This has become the quietest rink in the league, which shows the disconnect the fans have with this team just keeps growing. I couldn't hear myself think for just about the entire game Tuesday in Boston, even when the Bruins were trailing. Not the case here. And before any of you get all defensive about it, several visiting writers have brought up this topic to me this season.