We're in our usual perch here in HSBC Arena, high above Section 319, for tonight's game between the Sabres and the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes, who are 6-0-2 in their last eight and seven points ahead of Buffalo for ninth in the East. The Canes haven't lost in regulation since Dec. 26 and are three points behind Atlanta for eighth in the East.
Carolina has 48 points and the Sabres have 41. A regulation loss by Buffalo tonight would push the Sabres nine points out of ninth in the East. Not eighth. Ninth. And that would mean the future Pegulas would be closer and closer to the time when they should start selling.
We learned this morning that Thomas Vanek would be in the lineup tonight. We're learning during warmups who will not be. Chris Butler is one scratch but there are 19 skaters on the ice. So we'll have to wait for the announcement of who sits, whether it's Luke Adam or Craig Rivet or somebody else. How about Rob no-goals-in-33-games Niedermayer getting a night off?
Stay tuned for more.
6:55 p.m. update: Rivet is a scratch. So are Butler and Kaleta. Sabres obviously don't care that their 11th place team has no useful captain since they keep scratching him but won't take away the C like they should. Who knew what Ted Sator did to Lindy 22 years ago would handcuff the team so much now?
7 p.m. update on starters:
Buffalo: Gerbe-Gaustad-McCormick-Sekera-Myers. Goal: MIller
Carolina: Cole-Staal-Jokinen-McBain-Pitkanen. Goal: Ward
853 p.m: The puck is dropped.
17:11 left: Pitkanen goes for cross-checking McCormick in front. McCormick responded with a slash that could have been called too but wasn't. He needs to skate away when his team is in line for a power play.
16:34 left: Great puck work on the PP all the way up the ice. Even that drop pass at center ice I normally hate. Vanek eventually passes from the right wing to Stafford in the slot and he buries it past Ward for his 15th. Sabres lead, 3-1.
14:00 left: Connolly overhandles on a 2-on-1 with Vanek, doesn't shoot and loses the puck. Crowd boos.
12:10 left: Nice stop by Miller on Ruutu keeps Buffalo's two-goal lead intact.
9:50 left: Vanek on break goes in too deep to Ward's left, curls around net beating Ward to the right post but just fires the puck back through the crease and is unable to curl it inside the post. Classic look on his face. Pained smile as he looks to the rafters. Great rush. Barely missed the spectacular finish.
6:49 left: Sabres in control. Shots are 5-4 in the third and 31-25 overall. Just have to simply take this one across the finish line. An oddly uninspiring outing so far by the Canes, who came in on a 6-0-2 streak. They showed very little except for about three or four minutes after their goal. And that one, remember, was a power-play tally after the very dubious call on Myers.
3:12 left: Sabres are currently 4-12-3 against top 8 in East. With win tonight, they would be 15-7-2 against everybody else in the NHL. Odd. Shows their mediocrity. Better against bottom-run teams (and suprisingly good against the West). Simply can't match up to the Phillys, Tampas, Pittsburghs and Montreals of the world. At least not over the first 43 games.
1:57 left: Ward out. Faceoff in Buffalo end.
31.3 left: Canes with HUGE pressure and Skinner finally puts it in. Miller AND Montador had no sticks. Sabres lead, 3-2.
10.2 left: Terrible play by Sekera. Ice-length icing. Just get it out and you'd kill the clock. Now faceoff back to Miller's left.
It's over: Sabres hang on for a 3-2 win. Final shots were 35-29 for Buffalo.
8:01 p.m.: The puck is dropped.
15:06 left: Myers gone for goaltender interference. Horrible call. He went flying over Ward. Was pushed right into him. You could see the two-hand push on the HD board by Jay Harrison, who was beaten. And Lindy goes nuts.
14:51 left: Just 15 seconds later, the Canes tie it up at 1-1 as Tuomo Ruutu tips one home on a great pass from Eric Staal. Ruff is all over ref Marc Joannette. That whole sequence was a joke.
11:21 left: Ennis goes for tripping. In the offensive zone.
9:12 left: Sabres kill that penalty. Shots are 9-8 in the period for the Canes.
8:11 left: McCormick flips a Leopold rebound over Ward's shoulder. His sixth of the year, extending his career-high. And his 13th point set a new career mark. He does it all. Assist away from the Gordie Howe hat trick again. Sabres lead, 2-1.
5:30 left: The Canes have a 3-on-1 and shoot high. The Sabres come right back with a 4-on-2 and shoot wide. Gotta put the puck on the net, people.
5:01 left: Bodie goes for an unintentional high stick of Connolly in the faceoff circle. Awfully close to that nine-way nose. McCormick, by the way, now has the same number of goals as Connolly at a cost that 's $4 million less (Connolly is making $4.5 million and
3:44 left: Miller comes way out to get the puck and gets his legs taken out by Patrick Dwyer, who was going for the puck too and went into a slide to avoid a collision. Still, he took Miller out at the legs. Not good.
2:40 left: Sabres have really taken charge after the second goal. Shots are 18-9 for Buffalo.
21.4 left: Miller stops Boychuk from in tight to preserve the lead. Sabres have had at least the last 10 shots on goal. It's been a while for the Canes but that was a good chance.
End-2nd: Sabres lead, 2-1. Shots were 18-11 in the period for Buffalo and 26-21 for the game. Just checked the play-by-play. It was 10 straight shots for the Sabres and none over nine minutes for the Canes.
7:08 p.m.: The puck is dropped. Very classy move by the Sabres to have a pregame moment of silence for Dawn Hamilton, who passed away last night after a four-year battle with cancer. She was the wife of WGR Radio beat reporter Paul Hamilton, one of the true professionals on this level of the arena. Rick Jeanneret just passed on condolences on air as well.
15:42 left: Yawn. Hurricanes have a 2-1 edge in shots. Nothing really going on. Out of town, reeling Ottawa is giving Swedish rookie Robin Lehner his first NHL start in goal against the New York Islanders. Lehner, you may recall, is the 19-year-old who beat Team Canada in a shootout in the World Juniors here on New Year's Eve.
13:39 left: Shots are 3-1 for the Canes. Yep, not taking the morning skate this morning really has the Sabres full of life.
11:00 left: No surprises on the Sabres' lines. Gerbe-Gaustad-McCormick got the start. It's also Vanek-Connolly-Pominville, Ennis-Hecht-Stafford and Niedermayer-Adam-Grier.
10:13 left: Good scrap between McCormick and Troy Bodie came at the end of a shift where the Gaustad line was again doing solid work down low. The other lines have been invisible.
8:53 left: Ward stops Pominville on a slapper from the right circle. Shots are 7-5 for the Canes.
8:15 left: Montador crushes big-name rookie Jeff Skinner at the Canes line to give the Sabres a good chance but Ennis and Stafford combine to overpass and there's no shot. SHOOT!
7:33 left: Gaustad goes for tripping.
6:10 left: Zach Boychuk denied on a golden chance from the slot.
5:22 left: Tough PP for Boychuk. He's drilled with a teammate's shot and struggles to limp to the bench. The Sabres go down and take a 1-0 lead as Gerbe puts one home from the slot on a great feed from behind the net from Vanek. Gerbe's second of the year. Richly deserved the way he's played the last two games. Big for the Sabres to get too: Carolina is 14-1-3 when scoring first.
4:14 left: Classic moment on the HD board: The 1976 game against the Soviet Wings that resulted in a resouding 12-6 rout at the Aud. Awesome. (go away kisscam and bloopers).
End-1st: Sabres hold their 1-0 lead. Canes have a 10-8 edge in shots.
taggedSabres game day