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Live from the Arena: Sabres vs. Islanders

Greetings from HSBC Arena for today's Sabres-Islanders matinee. We still have to get some roster moves cleaer today, both Patrick Kaleta's status and what the Islanders will do in the wake of the suspensions of Mike Martin and Trevor Gillies.

But we have breaking news out of Pittsburgh with a furious statement issued by Penguins owner/icon Mario Lemieux. Click the link. Trust me. 

Lemieux called Friday's game a "travesty" and a "sideshow." He said the league falied to mete out proper justice,  and that it "must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players."

Then came the whopping final paragraph from Lemieux: "If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it."

Wow. This is not nearly the last we're going to hear about this. I think Lemieux's anger is clearly directed at the four-game ban Martin received for his blindside shot to the head of Max Talbot that brought comparisons to Todd Bertuzzi-Todd Moore. But hey, Mario: What about Matt Cooke's constant head-hunting?

Warmups: Mikko Koskinen (2-1, 3.60, .894) takes the ice first for Isles and will meet Ryan Miller in goal. As scheduled, both Patrick Kaleta and Paul Byron on the ice. Decision on Kaleta TBA.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

2:58 p.m.: Kaleta is in, Byron is a scratch along with Montador and Rivet.

Sabres starters: Niedermayer-Gaustad-Grier-Weber-Morrisonn. Goal: Miller
Islanders starters: Okposo-Nielsen-Grabner-Hamonic-MacDonald. Goal: Koskinen.

Overtime

Of note: The Sabres are tied for second in the NHL with 10 OT wins. They are 6-5 in game-deciding goals -- and have won their last four decisions. They lead the NHL with a 4-0 record in shootouts.

4:44 left: Stafford just misses on Connolly feed.

4:02 left: Montoya makes a couple stops on Leopold.

2:05 left: Grabner on a breakaway. Pass off Sekera. Brutal 7-6 loss. Only shot of OT against Miller.

Third Period

4:52 pm.: The puck is dropped.

17:00 left: Jeez. Grabner ties it with a bullet over Miller's shoulder after a cross-ice giveaway by Gaustad. Might be screened. Nice shot. But make a save. Game tied, 4-4.

16:20 left: Big save by Montoya on Hecht.

14:34 left: Myers whistles one home from the right over Montoya's shoulder. Nice feed from Pominville, who was barely stopped on a wraparound a few seconds earlier. Nice answer. Sabres lead, 5-4. Myers' eighth.

14:25 left: Vanek stopped on a 3-on-1. That would have been huge.

11:11 left: Tight, tight game. Shots 19-19 but nine goals. Some bad goaltending at both ends.

9:58 left: Ennis goes for hooking. Eh. Guess so.

8:56 left:  Hecht goes for hooking. Sabres two-men short for 58 seconds.

8:28 left: Connolly and Gaustad lost both draws on the 5-on-3 and Jurcina blasts home a one-timer. Game tied, 5-5.

7:12 left: Disaster. Ty Wishart's shot from the left point goes in off Morrisonn. Islanders lead, 6-5.

6:41 left: All three goaltenders brutal in this one. Montoya no better. Makes save on Leopold and gives up big rebound. Stafford pumps it home and here come the hats. NHL-high fourth hat trick of the year. Game tied, 6-6.Twelve goals on 45 shots in this one. And the place erupts.

5:28 left: It would be nice if the reigning Vezina Trophy winner would not allow a seventh goal to the team that's second-last in the East. Just a thought. This is a must-win against two AHL-level goalies.

1:45 left: Isles hem Buffalo in but Sabres finally survive. Harmonic goes for interference on Gerbe. That was a pretty marginal call too.

31.3 left: Brutal power play until Montoya stops Sekera's shot.

On to OT: Montoya holds the Sabres off in the final seconds. Shots were 11-9 for Buffalo in the third and 26-25 for regulation. There are 15 seconds left on the penalty.

Second Period

4;01 p.m. The puck is dropped. Harmonic got a 10-minute misconduct after the buzzer of the first period. Clearly griping that the Kaleta hit should have been more than just a minor. And he had a point.

19:23 left: Good news. Sekera back on the ice.

17:49 left: Gervais for interference, slowing up Vanek in the neutral zone. Easy call. Stupid penalty. Take advantage.

16:47 left: Stafford barely wide for the hat trick off a Vanek feed. Koskinen then made a good save on Connolly's low bullet from the left point.

15:29 left: Power play has a couple close calls. No matter. Gerbe absolutely undresses Milan Jurcina with the sensational toe drag and then burns Koskinen with a low shot for his seventh. Another stoppable one. And here comes Al Montoya for his Isles debut. Four goals on 14 shots against Koskinen. Sabres lead, 4-2.

13:00 left: It's a franchise record for the Islanders. Seven goalies used. And remember, Evgeni Nabokov is still on suspension.

12:34 left: McCormick goes for elbowing. Chintzy call at best.

8:51 left: Wild sequence as Martinek hits the post behind a beaten Miller, Stafford just fails to get away on a breakaway and now PA Parenteau goes for slashing.

8:16 left: Power play fail. Leopold goes for hooking and then hooking Nielsen again on the subsequent breakaway. Could have been a penalty shot easy.

7:30 left: Miller much better in this period. Stops Jurcina in alone on a 2-on-1.

5:18 left: Down to 1:03 left in the penalty. Miller has made two more good saves. Shots are 6-3 for the Isles in this period and I'd say four of the six Islander shots were quality chances.

3:44 left: Sabres kill it off.

2:00 left: Morrisonn to the dressing room after he gets tangled in the corner with Parenteau. Didn't seem to be favoring anything. Tough to tell. He's been really good today and in recent games.

1:05 left: Sabres let Blake Comeau skate all around the net and he comes out from behind to Miller's left and squirts one through the goalie's legs on the backhand. Ex-Vezina winners simply don't let that in. Period. Sabres lead, 4-3.

End-2nd: Sabres hold their 4-3 lead. Shots were 7-4 for the Islanders (16-15 for visitors through two). Buffalo had just one shot on goal in the final 15:29 after the Gerbe goal. Montoya not tested at all.

First Period

3:07 p.m.: The puck is dropped.

19:20 left: Michael Grabner is making a great Calder run. Just went around Miller and beat Morrisonn to the other post for his 22nd of the year. Islanders lead, 1-0. 

16:03 left: Myers a little shaky after taking an inadvertent high stick from Okposo. Accidental, yes. Still has to be a penalty. 

13:37 left: Shots are 3-3 and the Sabres are doing a good job creating pressure in the Islanders' zone. Kaleta has made his presence known, crushing the boards on one near-hit and then wiping out John Tavares on another. Let's see if there's any retribution from the Islanders on that one, especially with their goon squad suspended.

13:14 left: Jochen Hecht trips over the Islanders' blue line with no one around and the puck goes in the Buffalo zone. Then Hecht comes out with it, skates down the left side and puts a routine shot between Koskinen's legs. That would be a bad goal in the AHL. Hecht's ninth. Game tied, 1-1.

12:18 left: Stafford makes it 2-1 with a tap-in of a Connolly rebound that Koskinen kicked right to Ennis, who tapped it toward the crease. Keep shooting on this kid. No. 21 for No. 21 Sabres lead, 2-1.

7:11 left: Was just going to say no chances for the Islanders since the goal and they tie it up. Travis Hamonic's shot drills Sekera and Tavares backhands home the rebound. Sekera is helped off. No pressure on the left leg. Not good. Game tied, 2-2. Miller has to be better than Koskinen in this game. Period.

5:51 left: Shots are 8-5 for Buffalo. The building is library-quiet.

5:30 left: Ennis skates Perreault-like through three Islanders and beats Koskinen with a backhand but the puck hits the post/side of the net. This guy is a sieve. Keep shooting.

2:42 left: Miller robs Grabner from in front after Leopold got stripped in the corner. 

2:21 left: And the big save turns into a goal. Stafford's second of the game and 22nd of the year. Great tic-tac-toe from Connolly to Ennis to the crease. Sabres lead, 3-2. Three goals on 11 shots. 

1:29 left: Kaleta is running around way too much. He gets a charging call for crushing Harmonic. Right in the head too. He's lucky that wasn't a game misconduct.

End-1st: Sabres hold their 3-2 lead. Shots are 11-9 for Buffalo. There are 31 seconds left in the Kaleta penalty. This just in from Sabres stat guru Kevin Snow: Stafford has five goals on his last five shots. Wow. 

Sunday morning papers

Get used to a new kind of schedule for the Sabres the rest of the way. They have played just one Sunday game this season but starting today with a 3 p.m. matinee against the Islanders they'll play on six of the next eight Sundays. And they're all deadline-friendly with no start later than 6 p.m. Eastern time (high-five to the schedule makers!).

Don't look for morning skate info on these afternoon games. There won't be any. It's just show up to the rink a couple hours before and play. Kids at the Northtown Center know the drill. Here's a look at some reading material heading into today's game:

---Lindy Ruff is up to third on the list of longest-tenured coaches in the four major sports. I would imagine one of Terry Pegula's first duties would be to work out an extension with Ruff.

---Speaking of Pegula, Bucky Gleason's Inside the NHL offers the incoming owner five important decisions he has to make sooner rather than later. My take to Terry: Every goal Drew Stafford scores pushes the price higher. Get a deal done.

---Good news on the Steve Montador front: He should practice fully Monday and could play Tuesday in Montreal. Included here in the notebook is info on the Islanders' suspensions. (Good job by the sports desk inserting them shortly after midnight as your intrepid beat writer passed out with a laptop on one leg and a pug on the other waiting for the verdict.).

---(From the Cheap Plug Department: Check out my Inside Baseball column from today listing a starting lineup of nine questions heading into spring training. We now return you to your regular hockey programming).

---Penguins tough guy Eric Godard is bummed he got a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench during Friday's melee on Long Island but he'd do it again to protect a teammate.

---Can't show you the Islanders reaction from Newsday because that paper is behind a pay wall. The great dilemma of the Internet: Do stories really exist if no one can see them?

---The Penguins moved on and tried to practice outdoors Saturday in Central Park. One problem: Their bus got hit by a car so the players hopped out and hailed cabs.   If you scroll down a little at this piece on the Penguins' web site, you can see the players getting into the cabs. Crazy sight.

---The Penguins play the Rangers today at 3 at MSG in a game the Sabres will certainly be keeping an eye on. The big one for Buffalo is the 5 p.m. Carolina-at-Atlanta tilt. The Hurricanes got a point out of Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss at Tampa Bay, scoring two goals in a 19-second span inside the final minute. After Tuesday's collapse against the Sabres, a loss would have been a disaster for the Lightning.

The Canes and Atlanta are tied with 60 points while the Sabres are at 57. But Buffalo has three games in hand over Carolina and four over Atlanta. The skidding Rangers are five ahead of Buffalo at 62 but the Sabres have four games in hand over them. Buffalo is 11 points behind No. 6 Montreal, also with four games in hand. 

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Isles get double dose of revenge on Pens

Think the Islanders will be feeling good when they take the HSBC Arena ice tomorrow? They're coming off back-to-back wins over Montreal and Pittsburgh, and they won on the scoresheet and the fight card last night against the Penguins.

The Pens are having a calm day of practice in Central Park after their wild night on Long Island. There were 341 penalty minutes in the Islanders' 9-3 win over Pittsburgh and the NHL is certain to respond with some fines and suspensions. Eric Goddard of the Pens, in fact, is looking at an automatic 10-gamer for coming off the bench to give aid to goaltender Brent Johnson.

TSN has a terrific video recap of all the festivities that you can see at this link. A throwback night to the 70s.

And you can always count on somebody helping you out via YouTube. If you want to see every last minute of the pugilistic pugnaciousness, click away below.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Montador on the ice, Kaleta on his line

We'll get the details from Lindy Ruff after practice but the Sabres are on the ice at HSBC Arena and Steve Montador is with them, albeit skating in a red (non-contact) jersey. That is probably a good sign however because Montador was scheduled for concussion testing Friday afternoon. Obviously, he would not be on the ice if he had failed that exam.

Montador has missed practice time and certainly won't play Sunday against the Islanders here. Tuesday's game in Montreal and Wednesday's home contest against Toronto are probably iffy as well. But the Sabres don't appear to be looking at a long-term absence from one of their steadiest players this season.

Patrick Kaleta is taking a regular turn at wing with Cody McCormick and Nathan Gerbe and appears ready to return to the lineup. Paul Byron is still here, probably as insurance, and is switching off at center with Tim Connolly. The lines are as follows:

Vanek-Hecht-Pominville
Stafford-Connolly (Byron)-Ennis
Gerbe-McCormick-Kaleta
Niedermayer-Gaustad-Grier

POST-PRACTICE UPDATE

Montador says he's aiming to be back in the lineup Tuesday night in Montreal after skating through the entire workout.

"We just took the right steps to make sure it wasn't anything serious," Montador said. "I think we did the right thing not to jump it too soon. I took the neuropsych test [Friday] and I aced it."

Ruff said Montador should be fully cleared for contact Monday. The coach added that Kaleta will likely play Sunday.

"He's an important piece of the puzzle for us," Ruff said. "He provides a lot of energy, creates some instability for the other team just becaue of how well he skates and forechecks."

 ---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Vanek: 'You get that swagger back'

The Sabres had an optional workout today in HSBC Arena and the spirits are certainly high in the wake of the two-game sweep in Florida and the team's current 12-4-1 run. It's a big difference from the dog days of December, when Derek Roy was lost to a season-ending injury and the team was facing a double-digit deficit in the playoff race.

"You win a few games, you feel better about yourself and you get that swagger back,' Thomas Vanek said. "That's the biggest difference. Early on, we lost some tight games when we had a lead or it was tied in the third and we found a way to lose. Now we're feeling comfortable, confident and finding ways to win."

Because there's still basically two months of games left, the players insist they're not doing much scoreboard-watching involving the Rangers, Thrashers or Hurricanes, all of whom remain ahead of Buffalo in the standings. Ryan Miller agreed with that theory with one notable exception.

"The most I looked was when my brother [Detroit forward Drew Miller] had the game-winning goal against the Rangers," Miller said. "So I said, 'Thank you very much. We appreciate the help.' That's about as far as it goes."

On the injury front, Lindy Ruff confirmed John Vogl's story from Wednesday's editions that Steve Montador is dealing with concussion symptoms from a hit in last week's game against Toronto. Montador was to undergo testing today and has yet to begin exercising. Ruff said he'd like to get Patrick Kaleta back into the lineup Sunday against the Islanders.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Peters calls it a career

 Former Sabres enforcer Andrew Peters officially retired today in this statement issued by the NHLPA. Just a great guy. The enforcers often are the most personable ones in a locker room.

I was at locker cleanout day in 2006 and saw Peters stuff one of Daniel Briere's sons in a garbage can in the middle of the room. Guys were doubled over laughing. Maybe you had to be there. Peters did some work on the air recently for Time Warner at Niagara University and the release says he will live in Buffalo (he's from St. Catherines and married a local woman). Good for him. Glad he'll be staying around. Maybe he'll join Rob Ray and Matthew Barnaby in the media world.

And what would a blog entry on Peters be without John Vogl's favorite video? It's a time-tested classic that I share my colleague's affinity for. As a special bonus, I also found a fan's ode to Peters' pugilism.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

 

Vote for your three stars

Live from Sabres at Florida

SUNRISE, Fla. -- So I log on the Internet and The Buffalo News home page pops up, and right there at the top it reads, "12 degrees." The car gauge on the way to the rink read 86 degrees. So we've got that going for us, which is nice.

What's also nice is for once I didn't get sunburned despite lounging on the beach all day. Last year or the year before, I got toasted worse than ever. When I walked in the Sabres' dressing room, Derek Roy immmediately called me Hellboy and kept the nickname up for a week.

Of course, I have two more days of sun, so I can't start bragging about being merely tanned yet. Why spend two days off in Buffalo when you can get your Hemingway on in Key West instead? Definitely excited for that. A huge bonus would be if Kenny Chesney is warming up the band. They usually play in the Keys to get ready for their tour, which kicks off March 17 this year. Either way, sodas, lounging and live music should make all the shoveling when I get home Sunday morning bearable.

Yeah, I know. Tough life.

Well, time to start typing the Notebook. Look in Friday's paper for a story on Sabres players' dads making the journey to the land of sun and fun this week. Back when the puck drops.

6:59 p.m.: No surprises in the goalie matchup with Ryan Miller making his 30th straight start for Buffalo and Tomas Vokoun entering the crease for Florida.

FIRST PERIOD

7:25 p.m.: The Sabres will go with their usual starting line of Paul Gaustad in the middle of left wing Rob Niedermayer and right wing Mike Grier. (And once again, for maybe the 900th time, I wrote Grier as Griere the first time. Typed Daniel Briere's name so much during the years that it's a habit I don't think I'll ever break.)

7:36 p.m.: I like that the Panthers do a ceremonial puck drop. That's a fad that should return. It was only some doctors tonight instead of Darth Vader like it was last year or the year before, but fun anyway. Game on.

7:42 p.m.: Aside from a kid below me with dreaded Thundersticks, it's quiet as a library in this joint. Shots are 1-1 with 15:09 left.

7:45 p.m.: And the first commercial comes with no score and the Panthers holding a 3-1 edge in shots. The good thing for the locals is, as usual, most of them stayed away from the rink and aren't watching this early bore. I smell garlic and can't figure out where it's coming from. Not a usual rink smell.

7:47 p.m.: They need to repaint the logos and lines on the ice here. They're pretty faded.

7:52 p.m.: A pair of turnovers by the Panthers give Grier and Gaustad point-blank chances, but Grier fires wide with 10:20 to go and Vokoun stops Gaustad with 9:58 to go. The Sabres are headed to the power play after Scott Timmins trips Tyler Myers with 9:28 to go. Scott Timmins will never be as famous as Timmins, Ont, home to Shania Twain.

7:59 p.m.: The Thundersticks have been joined by cowbells. Ugh. Miller made a nice stop on Chris Higgins' rebound chance with 6:41 to go to keep it scoreless.

8:05 p.m.: Cody McCormick and Darcy Hordichuk wake up the natives with a brief fight with 3:50 left. There's no score, and Buffalo has a 7-5 shot edge.

8:07 p.m.: Jochen Hecht slams the bench door after his point-blank chance gets thwarted when his stick shatters on the shot with 2:40 left.

8:11 p.m.: The teams head to the dressing room tied at 0-0. Buffalo has an 8-5 shot edge. If I were these people in the building, I'd go outside. Oops, last time I told people to go outside I got called every name in the book, so never mind.

SECOND PERIOD

8:28 p.m.: A little Jay-Z in the building to start the second.

8:35 p.m.: Not much difference between the first and second periods so far. Each team has three shots through five minutes.

8:43 p.m.: The Foo Fighters cause a stir with 9:48 left. Still no score. Buffalo heads to second commercial with 9:41 left with a 12-9 shot edge. Vokoun's best stop of the period was on Tim Connolly's doorstep backhand with 11:42 to go.

8:47 p.m.: The Sabres finally open the scoring with 9:38 left. Hecht wins a draw in the Florida zone, and Mike Weber's point shot goes off the skate of Timmins and into the net. Maybe Timmins will get famous after all, but he'll never be Sean Bergenheim.

8:53 p.m.: Speaking of Briere, Paul Byron has a little Danny B in him with his stick work and jabs behind the play. Briere is from Gatineau, Quebec, and Byron played juniors there, so maybe it's in the water or something.

8:55 p.m.: Nathan Gerbe gets called for slashing with 3:01 left, giving Florida its first power play.

9 p.m.: Seconds after Tyler Myers hits the crossbar on a breakaway, the Panthers tie the game at 1-1 on a power-play goal with 1:22 to go. Jason Garrison's point shot got tipped past Miller.

9:03 p.m.: Garrison gets credit for the goal.

9:05 p.m.: Teams skate to dressing rooms in a 1-1 tie. Florida has an 18-15 shot edge after taking 13 of the 20 during the period.

THIRD PERIOD

9:23 p.m.: The Sabres are 8-2-4 when tied after two. The Panthers are 5-8-3.

9:29 p.m.: Bryan Allen's hook with 15:01 left gives Buffalo a power play.

9:30 p.m.: Wow, 31 of the Panthers' 53 games have been decided by one goal. Buffalo is 12-8-5 in one-goal games. The Panthers are 13-12-6.

9:32 p.m.: Penaly over.

9:37 p.m.: The Sabres take a 2-1 lead with 11:01 to play. Myers dumps the puck into the Florida zone, Jason Pominville recovers behind the net and feeds a wide-open Thomas Vanek in the slot.

9:40 p.m.: Marty Reasoner ties the game with 9:57 to go with a stickside shot from the top of the circles.

9:50 p.m.: Garrison's goal has been changed to Steve Bernier. There's 4:28 left, and it's still 2-2.

9:55 p.m.: Miller makes a glove save with 41.7 seconds left.

9:59 p.m: And we're going to ...

OVERTIME

9:59 p.m.: The Sabres finished regulation with a 24-23 shot edge. They are 9-5 in overtimes, while the Panthers are 7-6.

10:03 p.m.: Vokoun stops Hecht's backhand with 2:29 to go. Miller thwarts David Booth with 1:55 left.

10:08 p.m.; Myers' slap shot with 4.5 seconds left gives Buffalo a 3-2 victory.

---John Vogl

Sabres skip skate, other NHL news

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Sabres nixed their morning skate (which fortunately is a regular happening in 80-degree beach weather). Craig Rivet and Patrick Kaleta were the only players headed to the rink, so they won't play tonight.

Here's a quick look at NHL news involving Kaleta, the Sabres and others:

*Tom Kaleta, the father of the Buffalo Sabres right winger, said Wednesday their charitable organization has officially received funding to build a multisport complex in Springville. The Kaletas, who run the HITS Foundation, plan to break ground on the project in April and hope to have it completed in August.

*The Sabres are experiencing a goal-scoring race. Normally the exclusive domain of Thomas Vanek, who has led the team in goals each of the previous four seasons, the team leader board now has two names.

Vanek is on top with 21 goals after scoring twice Tuesday in Tampa Bay. Drew Stafford is right behind at 20, courtesy of his third hat trick of the season during the 7-4 victory over the Lightning. If they continue to push each other, they could push the Sabres into the playoffs. Buffalo is just four points behind eighth-place Carolina with two games (and four possible points) in hand heading into tonight's game against at Florida.

*My buddy George Richards of the Miami Herald took time out of our soda drinking last night to do a quick update on the Panthers, who sent streaky winger Michael Frolk to Chicago on Wednesday, getting RW Jack Skille, RW Hugh Jessiman and C David Pacan back. Florida also threw in goalie Alexander Salak (loaned to Sweden).

''We need more physical players up front,'' assistant GM Mike Santos said. ''Skille is hard to play against.''

*Toronto sent defenseman Francois Beauchemin to the Ducks for forward Joffrey Lupul, defensive prospect Jake Gardiner and a conditional 2013 fourth-round pick.

*Fourteen goals. Six fights. Just another wild night between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.

---John Vogl

Inside the NHL -- Live Chat

Montador to miss second game with concussion symptoms

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Buffalo Sabres will visit the Florida Panthers on Thursday without Steve Montador, with sources telling The News he is suffering from concussion-like symptoms. The defenseman was injured during Saturday's game against Toronto on a second-period hit by Jay Rosehill. He finished the game but has since failed a neuro-psych test, The News has learned.

Montador and coach Lindy Ruff would say only that the defenseman has an upper-body injury. Ruff acknowledged that Montador is not allowed to do any off-ice workouts, which fits the standard concussion rehab protocol.

Montador watched the Sabres practice in BankAtlantic Center and afterward said he felt "better."

"Daily, it’s just been progressing as we wanted it to," he said. "I took a pretty hard hit in the second period and managed to continue to play. With the intensity of the game and wanting to contribute and all those factors, I just stayed in. I finished the game, but given the circumstances we wanted to take a little bit of time to allow everything to be where we need it to be to move forward.

"I suspected there was something right away, but it was more just making a conscious decision of how to move forward talking to the medical staff and the coaches and everything."

Montador talked with the team doctor this morning and planned to chat again later in the day.

"We might move forward tomorrow with a workout and a bike ride, which is encouraging for me," said Montador, who missed Tuesday's 7-4 victory in Tampa Bay. "Watching these guys sweating and having fun, it’s hard to just sit here and not participate."

Right wing Patrick Kaleta, who hasn't played since Jan. 21 because of a left hand injury, practiced again but may be kept out of the lineup Thursday by Ruff.

"We haven’t made that decision," Ruff said. "He’s doing a lot better. I like the way the team has responded these last couple of games and played and won. That factors into it. It also factors in that we give him the opportunity to get a little more time, too."

---John Vogl

Vote for your three stars

Live from Sabres at Tampa

TAMPA, Fla. -- Any Sabres fans who didn't get to see Monday's premiere of the "new" Versus will get their chance tonight with the channel covering the game against Tampa Bay.

Comcast (which runs Versus) has merged with NBC, and they have streamlined the coverage between the two channels. Pierre McGuire, an NBC studio host, made his Versus debut Monday between the benches for the Detroit-Rangers game. Brian Engblom has moved from the Versus studio to the ice, and he will be between the benches tonight.

Ryan Miller will get the start for the Sabres, with former Buffalo backup Dwayne Roloson in net for the Lightning. Cheap Plug Alert: See Wednesday's Notebook for more on Roloson.

FIRST PERIOD

7:32 p.m.: The Sabres will use the starting lineup of Rob Niedermayer-Paul Gaustad-Mike Grier, with Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Weber on defense. Tampa will counter with Simon-Gagne-Vincent Lecavalier-Teddy Purcell, with Randy Jones and Pavel Kubina on defense.

7:41 p.m.: And the puck is finally dropped.

7:43 p.m.: Sabres get the first power play with 18:14 left with Steven Stamkos going off for tripping.

7:48 p.m.: No score with the teams at even strength with 15:00 left. There is nobody in this building. It's at least half empty.

7:51 p.m.: Sabres Edge legend Sean Bergenheim gives the Lightning a 1-0 lead with 13:24 to go. The forward takes Lecavalier's long breakout pass just out of the reach of Tim Connolly and streaks in toward Miller. He goes shortside, stickside top shelf to give the Lightning the lead.

7:56 p.m.: Miller gets his glove on Stamkos' close-range blast after a cross-ice pass from Martin St. Louis with 11:40 to go.

8 p.m.: The Sabres hit the second commercial with a 1-0 deficit and a 9-5 shot disadvantage. They're lucky it's only one goal. The Lightning is controlling play.

8:05 p.m.: Lightning forrward Dominic Moore will be signing autographs at a department store in Tampa on Thursday night. Don't all book your flights at once.

8:06 p.m.: The usual Tampa resident standing ovation for a military member, with tonight's honor going to National Guard Supply Sgt. James Hines. It's 1-0 with 5:25 to go.

8:08 p.m.: Another Buffalo power play with Ryan Malone getting a tripping call with 5:06 to go.

8:09 p.m.: It lasts 11 seconds as Tyler Myers goes for hooking with 4:55 to go.

8:12 p.m.: Tampa's Victor Hedman ties the game for Buffalo with 3:17 to go. Drew Stafford tired passing to teammate Tyler Ennis near the Lightning net, and Hedman reached out to block the pass. Instead, he sent it into the net.

8:15 p.m.: The teams hit the first intermission in a 1-1 tie. Tampa holds a 13-11 shot edge.

SECOND PERIOD

8:33 p.m.: And we're off (offline for much of the intermission, too) ...

8:35 p.m.: Moore takes a hooking penalty just 45 seconds in.

8:37 p.m.: Uneventful power play.

8:42 p.m.: A turnover by Andrej Sekera allows Tampa to take a 2-1 lead with 15:02 to go. The backpedaling defenseman lost the puck to Hedman, who chased it down and fed Lecavalier for a tap-in.

8:43 p.m.; Nathan Gerbe gives Tampa a power play with a roughing call with 14:19 left.

8:45 p.m.: Connolly's clearing pass nearly takes out Gerbe as he exits the box.

8:46 p.m.: Roloson makes a pad save on Ennis' breakaway with 11:42 to go.

8:51 p.m.: Teams head to commercial break while Tampa's Steve Downie heads to box to get medical attention with 8:56 left. He tried leaving the zone and ran smack into Myers.

8:55 p.m.: The Legend strikes again. Ryan Malone pushes a blue-line faceoff into the Buffalo zone and gets a backhand off on Miller. He kicks out a big rebound, and Bergenheim buries it with 8:36 left. That's Bergenheim's fifth goal in 15 games against the Sabres.

8:57 p.m.: Jochen Hecht goes off for elbowing with 7:59 left.

9:05 p.m.: It's still 3-1 with 3:02 to go. Bergenheim has five goals in his last eight games against Buffalo ... so far.

9:09 p.m.: A fine offensive play by Mike Weber sets up Thomas Vanek and pulls the Sabres within 3-2 with 1:50 to go. Weber carried in from the blue line, kept the puck away from two defenders and slid a backhand pass across the zone for Vanek.

9:12 p.m.: And at the end of 40 minutes, Tampa Bay has a 3-2 lead and 24-16 shot edge.

THIRD PERIOD

9:29 p.m.: The Sabres are 2-19-1 when trailing after two. Tampa is 22-1-1 when leading after two.

9:38 p.m.: The Sabres catch a huge break as Drew Stafford trips Roloson with 15:34 to go, allowing Jordan Leopold's shot to find the net. The Bolts and their fans are furious.

9:42 p.m.: After the goal, Downie tackled and battled on the ice with Tim Connolly, while Brett Clark body-slammed Ennis. When play resumed, Hedman slashed Drew Stafford, took a high-stick from Stafford, then got called for roughing. Buffalo has a four-on-three with 15:14 to go.

Oh, and Jochen Hecht hit the post with 15:20 to go while all alone.

9:44 p.m.: The power play ends when Leopold goes for tripping with 14:04 to go.

9:53 p.m.: Connolly gives the Sabres a 4-3 lead on a backhand goal from the crease with 9:46 to go.

9:54 p.m.: Cody McCormick feeds Thomas Vanek for a goal with 8:59 to go. The Lightning calls a timeout. It never recovered from the bad call.

10:04 p.m.: The ice is littered with hats as Stafford gets his third three-goal night of the season with 6:33 left. The Sabres have a 7-3 lead.

10:12 p.m.: Lecavalier cuts the Tampa deficit to 7-4 with a power-play goal with 3:41 left. Still, the Sabres should win their second straight and improve to 11-4-1 in their past 16 games.

10:17 p.m.: Sabres win.

---John Vogl

Butler excited for chance to play

TAMPA, Fla. -- Chris Butler's father is on the Sabres' Florida road trip, part of the team's annual version of "bring your dad to work week." As a bonus, he'll get to see Chris play against Tampa Bay.

The defenseman will be in the lineup tonight for the first time since Jan. 8 and only the second time since Dec. 18. Butler is replacing Steve Montador, who will miss his first game of the season with an upper-body injury.

"I enjoy playing, and I’m excited to play tonight," said Butler, who received a brief chat and a tap on the pads from coach Lindy Ruff during the morning skate. "He just said, "Play hard. It’s a good opportunity.’ There wasn’t a ton to it other than play hard, work hard. That’s kind of the way I’ll approach it."

Butler has played 127 NHL games, so it's nothing new to enter the lineup, but he admits it is different after sitting for such a long stretch.

"It’s different," Butler said. "It’s really tough to simulate game situations in practice, but at least you know what to expect. It’s a very skilled, very fast team tonight, and I’m looking forward to it."

Right wing Patrick Kaleta, who got the cast off his broken left hand last weekend, won't play against the Lightning but is likely to return Thursday against the Florida Panthers.

---John Vogl

Butler in for Montador, Bolts' coach wary of Sabres

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Sabres are in the midst of their morning skate, and it appears Chris Butler will replace injured defenseman Steve Montador for tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Montador is not on the ice for the second straight day, and coach Lindy Ruff just gave Butler a pep talk at center ice and tapped him on the shin pads.

More following the skate.

Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher, meanwhile, feels his team faces a challenge tonight from Ryan Miller and the Sabres.

"This team has had a slower start, but if you look at them in terms of stats, I think they’re [third] in the league in shots for, which means they’re a major threat offensively," Boucher said. "Miller is back now, so he’s maybe the best goalie in the league. If you look at the motivation they’ve got, especially lately, they’ve got two games in hand on Carolina. If they win those two games, they’re one point behind eighth place, so that means the playoffs. They’re coming in here with two days of rest, preparing exactly for us. It’s the same scenario as Washington, so they’re a team that’s going to come in with a lot of motivation."

The Capitals dealt the Bolts their only loss in the last eight games.

---John Vogl

Around the East

TAMPA, Fla. -- Just landed in Tampa, and here's three quick stories from the Eastern Conference:

*The Bruins have shut down Marc Savard for the rest of the season because of another concussion.

*The Penguins' Sidney Crosby might not be back in the lineup until March because of his concussion.

*Toronto coach Ron Wilson and All-Star forward Phil Kessel don't like each other, prompting GM Brian Burke to sit down with them for a chat.

---John Vogl

Montador misses practice, Kaleta gets cast off

Sabres defenseman Steve Montador missed practice today in HSBC Arena after getting banged up in Saturday's 6-2 victory over Toronto. Coach Lindy Ruff said Montador will travel with the team to Tampa Bay today, but the coach isn't sure if the defenseman will be able to play Tuesday against the Lightning.

Montador played the entire game Saturday and was on the ice for the final shift.

Right wing Patrick Kaleta returned to practice without the cast that has covered his broken left hand since Dec. 28. He said he is ready to play Tuesday, but Ruff wasn't sure. The coach typically prefers running players through an intense practice or two before reinserting them in the lineup.

---John Vogl

Super stories around the rinks

There's plenty going on in the NHL on Super Sunday. Here's a sprint down the field through some of the top stories:

This one just broke an hour before kickoff: Marc Savard of the Bruins is going to be shut down for the season because of yet another concussion. Gotta figure that's it for his career, right? 

The Leafs have a brewing controversy between Phil Kessel and coach Ron Wilson. Kessel got benched during the loss Saturday to the Sabres and then said at practice Sunday that "me and Ron really don't talk." Nice.

How about that Sabres game? John Vogl writes the Laffs are the Listerine the Sabres use to wash a bad taste from their mouth. Ryan Miller enjoys frustrating Laff fans.

More confirmation of the new era Terry Pegula is bringing: Minority owner Dan DiPofi is staying on and he tells Bucky Gleason: "I haven't sat down with Terry to talk about what his philosophy is, but I agree with [the assumption] that he wants to do things on the hockey side where money won't be an issue. But you have to remember there's only so much money [up to the salary cap]."

---The Devils won today at Montreal, 4-1. They're 9-1-2 in their last 12 games and finally out of the Eastern Conference basement. Guess rookie head coach John MacLean was completely over his head. The win, however, was tempered by a knee injury to Martin Brodeur. Status unknown.

---The Penguins are likely without Evgeni Malkin for the season and they lost today at Washington, 3-0. It featured Matt Cooke's late knee-on-knee hit on Alex Ovechkin.

Said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau: "It's Matt Cooke. Need we say more? It's not like it's his first rodeo. He's done it to everybody and then he goes to the ref and says, 'What did I do?' He knows damn well what he did. There's no doubt in my mind that he's good at it and he knows how to pick this stuff. And we, as a League, buy into this like it's an accidental thing."

Touche.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

Vote for your three stars

Live from the Arena: Sabres vs. Laffs

Greetings from high atop HSBC Arena for the first time in 15 days as we get set for the Sabres' game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Laffs have basically served as the Sabres' you-know-what since the lockout with Buffalo's 28 wins over Toronto in that span second in the NHL to Nashville's 30 wins over Columbus. The Sabres have won six straight in HSBC Arena over the Leafs as well.

As he told us last year, Ryan Miller loves to shut up the Toronto fans and send them 90 minutes up the QEW on their way. Miller is 23-8 vs the Leafs in his career with a 2.19 GAA, .931 save percentage and four shutouts. 

While we wait for the opening faceoff, there's lots to catch up on:

---Be sure to follow the Billboard and the main home page of Buffalonews.com for the latest on Andre Reed's potential induction to the Hall of Fame. That announcement begins at 7 p.m. Memo to the Sabres: It's going on the HD board and the public address system if he gets in, right?

---Here's the latest story on Penguins winger Evgeni Malkin, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his knee Friday night during his second-period collision with Tyler Myers. Looks like Malkin is done for the year and that almost certainly puts the Penguins down the pecking order in the Eastern Conference behind the Flyers, Lightning and perhaps even the Capitals. It's all going to depend on when and oh well Sidney Crosby returns from his concussion.

---The Predators have returned West Seneca native Chris Mueller to Milwaukee of the AHL.

---Keep it on this link for updates from tonight's Atlanta-Carolina game. If you're a Sabres fan, it doesn't matter who wins. You just want them to do it in regulation.

---Sabres owner-in-waiting Terry Pegula has two hockey loving teen-age daughters who have been pretty enthusiastic the last couple days on Twitter about Dad's purchase. Jessica Pegula, a 17-year-old who was born in Buffalo, is a budding tennis professional as this 2010 story from the Palm Beach Post describes.

She has been burning up Twitter on her page and has more than doubled her number of followers since word of it started spreading yesterday. Her younger sister, Kellie, also has a Twitter page.

In the last two days, Jessica Pegula tweeted that she was at Game Seven of the 2006 Eastern Conference finals at Carolina. One wise guy I followed cracked that she's said more about the Sabres in the last two days than Tom Golisano did in the last three years. Heh! Some other tweets from her:

---She had a good laugh at the MSG shot of her father in a suite with Larry Quinn.

---Chris Drury was her favorite player (Dad is thus probably still stewing about 7/1/07).

---Her mother, Kim, had her picture taken in the Penguins' locker room (the family, after all, has Pennsylvania roots and has also backed the Penguins).

---Kim Pegula has also been wearing a Sabres T-shirt around their Florida home for months.

So is that enough reading material before faceoff? Keep it here for all of tonight's updates.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Third Period

Of note: The Thrashers and Hurricanes are tied at 1-1 with 12:00 left. The Sabres need somebody -- anybody -- to win in regulation. Stafford has three points and a game-high six shots on goal. The Leafs have replaced Reimer in goal with J.S. Giguere. Not a good game for the kid, who came in with a 1.96 GAA. I thought Ron Wilson might yank him after the Gaustad goal.

9:13 p.m. The puck is dropped.

18:00 left: Good news in Carolina as the Canes take a 2-1 lead over the Thrashers with 11:23 left. They would bypass the Thrashers and move into eighth if they hold on for a regulation win.

15:08 left: Miller sharp again on a Grabovski backhand from in tight.

11:00 left: Laffs showing little resistance. Shots are 4-3 for Sabres in the period. Still a 5-1 game.

7:21 left: Some residual noise from the Laff folks as Francois Beauchemin floats one home from the right boards. Montador and another Laff were in front screening Miller, who never saw it. Sabres lead, 5-2. Bad news in Carolina: Zach Bogosian scores with 1:24 left for the Thrashers to tie it up at 3-3.

3:17 left: Vanek on a breakaway stopped by Giguere on his trademark slapper but the puck bounches right to his stick and Vanek pounds home the rebound. Vanek's 19th. He has 19 points in the last 13 games. Sabres lead, 6-2.

2:05 left: At Sweet Caroline time, Carolina wins in OT on an Eric Cole goal, 4-3. Canes have 58 points, Thrashers have 58, Sabres will have 53. Buffalo with four games in hand on Atlanta, two on Carolina. Attendance here is 18,264. Memo to Terry Pegula: The platinum games have exceeded WNY fans' price point. No way a Saturday night game against the Laffs should have any empties.

It's over: A 6-2 win. Final shots were 43-25.

Second Period

8:12 p.m.: The puck is dropped.

18:08 left: After the third icing of the shift, Ruff uses his timeout. He's not happy with the Hecht line and Myers-Sekera, who keep getting stuck on the ice.

16:10 left: Miller stops Colby Armstrong from in tight on a 2-on-1. Big save. What you need from him.

15:41 left: It looks even bigger now as Gaustad rips home a wrister past Reimer to give Buffalo a 3-0 lead. Right through the legs. Bad goal. Sabres lead, 3-0.

14:28 left: Miller stones Kessel on a breakaway.

13:55 left: Komisarek for roughing for a late, cheap shot on Paul Byron. The Laffs are hitting Byron and Gerbe a lot tonight. That's pretty pathetic.

12:46 left: Another PP goal. This time, it's Tim Connolly on a Vanek feed. Sabres lead 4-0 on Connolly's seventh of the year and first since Dec. 17 at Florida. First at home since Nov. 19 vs. LA.

12:07 left: Memo to Laff fans: It's a snowy night. May as well get started on the ride home. Team disintegrating. Darryl Boyce gone for tripping.

11:10 left: The Laff fans tell me to shut up by making lots of noise as Nikolai Kulemin tips one past Miller. Buffalo's NHL-high 10th shorthanded goal against this season. Sabres lead, 4-1.

9:23 left: Sabres stopped on that PP and Reimer stops Grier. Shots are 12-5 in this period and 24-15 for Buffalo.

6:51 left: Good scrap between McCormick and Komisarek.

5:38 left: Stafford becoming quite the sniper. A wicked wrister over Reimer's shoulder makes it 5-1. That's his 17th, one shy of Vanek for the team lead, in 33 games. He just needs to stay healthy. Sabres lead, 5-1.

2:46 left: Shots are 17-6 for Buffalo in this period and the Sabres have three goals. This is how you parlay momentum from a good start. Seems like a lesson was learned last night.

2:39 left: Phaneuf just flattened Pominville shortly after the whistle. Montador tried to get to him but officials held him off. And Pominville got a tripping penalty out of the deal too.

11.0 left: Miller with another great save on Fredrik Sjostrom.

End-2nd: It's a 5-1 Buffalo lead and a 30-18 bulge in shots on goal. The final count in the second was 18-8

First Period

6:56 p.m.: CBC cares about us ink-stained wretches as much as Versus. We're looking at at 7:10 faceoff.

Sabres starters: Niedermayer-Gaustad-Grier-Weber-Morrisonn. Goal: Miller
Leafs starters: McArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin-Phaneuf-Beauchemin. Goal: Reimer.

7:10 p.m.: Quite a twist on the opening video by the decades with some of the best fight clips in franchise history, all the way from Schoenfeld-Cashman to Biron-Emery and Patrick Kaleta's beatdown of Columbus' Jared Boll in December.

7:14 p.m.: Finally, the puck is dropped. Thanks for nothing, CBC.

19:13 left: Reimer stunned by a rising slapper from Pominville that gets him in the mask. He's OK but you could hear the ping all the way up here.

17:20 left: A few seconds after the first big "Go Leafs, Go" chant, Gerbe is crushed with an open-ice check at center by Dion Phaneuf.

16:29 left: The Sabres get the first goal as Pominville pops it over Reimer's shoulder from in tight after a steal in the Leafs' zone by Vanek and a great backhand pass across the goalmouth. Pominville's 12th. Sabres lead, 1-0. Four goals and five assists for Pominville over the last eight games.

15:00 left: Shots are 6-1 for Buffalo. Another solid start, a trend we've seen in recent games. Maintaining second-period momentum has been a problem.

14:37 left: Old friend MacArthur goes for hooking. Sabres are seventh in the league in home power play percentage at 21.7.

14:08 left: Bang. 2-0. GREAT play by Stafford to keep the puck in at the point and then he sprints to the left circle and one-times home an even greater pass from Leopold. Stafford's 16th. And another 2-0 lead. The Sabres have to hold this one. Just have to.

12:00 left: Shots are 8-1. Hope those Leaf fans who trudged through the QEW snow are enjoying themselves here. 

10:30 left: Just noticed that Andre Reed didn't even make the final five of the Hall of Fame voting. Boo. Terrible.

10:12 left: The Leafs are getting destroyed (shots 11-1 and time of possession would be worse). Their frustration is showing as they start pounding on Gerbe and Byron. McCormick and Myers step in to help out. McCormick gets the only call for cross checking.

8:00 left: One shot on the Laffs' PP. And that's 35 straight penalties against Toronto killed off by Sabres. Leafs don't have a PP goal against Buffalo since March 27, 2009. Crazy.

5:44 left: Tim Brent goes for high sticking a few seconds after Miller stoned him following a Myers giveaway.

4:13 left: Luke Schenn drills Ennis behind the Laffs' net. Maybe Schenn is still chafed over the way his kid brother's team choked away that gold medal here last month.

3:17 left:  Atlanta has a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes in Carolina.

2:56 left: Weber goes for slashing. A few seconds later, Kris Versteeg with a classic trip-over-the-blueline pratfall. The Laffs have been terrible in this period.

End 1st: The Sabres hold their 2-0 lead and a 12-10 edge in shots. But they were not as good over the final seven minutes. It's kind of like last night. Remember the shots were once 11-1. And that rough patch at the end of the first foreshadowed trouble in the second. Let's see how it plays out today.

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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