Greetings from our usual perch atop HSBC Arena for tonight's showdown between the Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes, who are ultra desperate to win this one to crawl closer in the playoff race. Buffalo can take a six-point lead over the ninth place Canes with a regulation win tonight. With only 12 games left, that would be a pretty big lead over all the teams outside the top eight.
I was not at Sunday's game -- after that see-the-USA roadie, I needed to reacquaint myself with my couch -- but I made sure to watch and listen to every second I could of the Rick Martin coverage. Tough day indeed. Great of the Sabres to trot out Lindy Ruff and three other alums in the hour before the game as well as Terry Pegula. The pregame salute hit all the right chords and so did the players' postgame salute. Very touching. Very memorable.
Little known Harrington fact: First Sabres game I attended at the Aud was Dec. 9, 1971 against Chicago. Hawks won, 3-1. Only Sabres goal: Rick Martin at 2:33 of the third period.
I hear there's a movement tonight for fans to start a "Rico, Rico" chant when the clock hits 14 minutes of the first period, as in the seventh minute of play. That would be nice. The word on Twitter is that the Sabres will be debuting a goal song tonight when they score. I'll have more on that when it happens. We're also hearing of another surprise upstairs tonight. I noticed one already: There are new speakers hanging from the catwalk above the 300 level and the PA is definitely clearer.
It's a late start tonight, 7:40 due to Versus. I made this point on Twitter today and I repeat it here: The network really goofed using play-by-play man John Forslund on tonight's game. He does an excellent job -- but he's the Hurricanes' regular announcer. That should not happen. Get somebody else in here. I know there's a Devils game tonight so Mike Emrick, who did last night's San Jose-Chicago game, is probably not available but a national telecast (Ed Olczyk and Brian Engblom are in the house) should not feature one of the local teams' announcers.
How would folks in Carolina feel tonight if Rick Jeanneret was behind the mic? You get my point. But enough quibbling about TV. We'll get you the scratches, starters, etc. shortly.
7:28 p.m: Sabres scratch Chris Butler. Steve Montador back in.
7:30 p.m.: I love the "We're coming home" opening video montage of the road trip. Pardon my lack of recognition of the music but it works.
Sabres starters: Gerbe-Gaustad-Mancari-Myers-Sekera. Goal: Miller
Canes starters: Stillman-Staal-Ruutu-Corvo-Pitkanen. Goal: Ward
15:44 left: Apologies. I had a whole post that disappeared into cyberland when the Internet conked out. They're getting that fixed here this week I'm told. Vanek just took a Leopold wrist shot to the chest on a power play. Canes are 21-1-0 when leading after 2. ... Here's a shot courtesy of Mark Mulville of Terry Pegula and Ted Black in section 317 in the first period. Love the puckhead nearby. Pegula-Black by the railing in the front at the bottom of the shot (left -- click for bigger view)
14:10 left: Cole goes for interference.
13:59 left: Ward robs Ennis with the glove.
11:50 left: Ward holding strong. Shots 6-4 and now the Sabres are hit with a too many men penalty at the end of the power play.
9:40 left: Another PP killed. Canes 0 for 4.
8:02 left: Miller stones Cole all alone in front on a clear break. Had plenty of time to deke a couple steps too. Keeps Buffalo in the game.
5:47 left: Sloppiness all over the place. Montador, who might be heading back to the press box based on this game, blew a tire and allowed a break. The puck went wide, Ennis tried to break in as it careened down the ice and Ward had to make a save. Canes playing a great road game, keeping Buffalo from great chances and letting Ward clean up when he has to. For a team that's given up 39 shots on goal, full marks to Carolina at this point in a game of this importance. Sabres had a chance to bury the Leafs Saturday and failed. They have a chance to really put a crimp in the Canes' plans and so far, it's no dice.
3:41 left: Montador just clinched his spot in the press box with a silly boarding penalty. Canes to the PP again. Even if they continue to be pathetic, it's another two minutes they can run off the clock to protect the lead.
1:42 left: Icing on Canes. Faceoff in Carolina zone.
It's over: A great job by the Canes to pull out a 1-0 win. Tough loss. Final shots were 40-33.
8:36 p.m.: The puck is dropped. It was Staal on the penalty. My bad. A high-five to the PR department for heeding our wishes and producing in-game notes like so many other NHL arenas are doing now. The notes point out the 22 shots tied Buffalo's season high in a period set Dec. 28 at Edmonton and equaled last week at Boston. A sobering note: Carolina is 21-3-4 when scoring first; the Sabres had score first in 10 of their last 11 games.
14:50 left: Sabres have a 4-2 edge in shots. Boyes just made a terrible giveaway to Stillman in the slot but Stillman's shot was high and wide.
11:30 left: Much tighter period with shots 7-4 for Buffalo. Ward has been very sharp for the Canes. Exactly what they need tonight.
10:44 left: Sekera goes for elbowing a couple seconds after Skinner pulls the puck away from Myers in the slot and nearly beats Miller.
8:11 left: Ref Kelly Sutherland clipped by Weber's stick. Down briefly and bleeding. Come on, people. Don't applaud. He goes off for repairs to applause. The right kind. Thank you. During the break, the fans get the white rally towels going for the first time tonight. Nice touch.
6:49 left: Pitkanen for interference after drilling Gerbe, who goes for unsportsmanlike conduct diving. Terrible. Gerbe got drilled a few seconds earlier by Joslin -- a total punch in the head in front of an official that went uncalled.
4:47 left: Teams back to 5-on-5. Crowd definitely more alive and more surly in the wake of the missed call/followed by blown call on Gerbe.
4:00 left: It goes both ways. Skinner pulled down with a stick to the face and no call. Several Canes banging their stick on the boards in front of the bench. You don't normally do that but they sure had a point.
End-2nd: Still 1-0 for Carolina. Vanek shoots wide on breakaway in final 10 seconds. Totally fakes Josline but misses the net. Shots 10-9 in that period and 32-22 for Buffalo for the game.
7:40 p.m.: A deadline-killing opening faceoff.
19:43 left: Mancari and Tuomo Ruutu go for unsportsmanlike conduct. Ruutu hit Sekera and Mancari drilled Ruutu. Tell me what was unsportsmanlike. This ain't a tennis match.
19:14 left: Ward stops Connolly on a 2-on-1. Good to see him shoot. He then bowls over Ward but both get up and seem OK.
15:06 left: Great work down low by Ennis, who had two chances. A few seconds later, Gaustad's breakaway pass to Gerbe is a little too hard and shoots over Gerbe's stick into the stands.
14:38 left: Gaustad for hooking. Canes' power play has been a trainwreck of late. They're 0 for 21 in their last five games and 3 for 61 in their last 15.
12:30 left: Make that 0 for 22 and 3 for 62. Two shots on the PP. Great PK job by the likes of Connolly, Grier and McCormick, among others.
10:04 left: Ward has to hop back into the crease to kick Mancari's shot into the crowd after a weak clearing attempt right to the Buffalo winger.
9:21 left: Terry Pegula and Ted Black are sitting to our right in Section 317 and just got a huge ovation when he was recognized on the HD board as the mayor of Pegulaville. At the top of the section is a sign "Welcome to Pegulaville, est. 2011."
9:04 left: Niedermayer for interference just a couple seconds after McCormick is stopped on the doorstep. If that puck had gone in right after the owner's introduction, that would have clearly been Pegula Power.
8:08 left: Great glove save by Miller on Jay Harrison. Shots are 8-7 for Buffalo.
6:51 left: Make that 0 for 23 and 3 for 63 for the Canes. Another kill.
3:45 left: Shots are 17-7 for Buffalo but it hardly seems like a shooting gallery here. Mostly on the outside, except for the most recent by Stafford. Still, Sabres skating well in this game except when they're in the box. Hurricanes have to be better. They don't look too desperate.
1:16 left: Sabres had 13 straight shots at one stretch to push the count to 21-7. It's now 21-11 as Canes have been strong for the last minute or so. Super rookie Jeff Skinner has created a lot of open ice for himself and had two great chances.
42.3 left: Canes get rewarded. Great play by Brandon Sutter to pull a Derek Joslin rebound around Miller and tuck it into the empty net. Canes lead, 1-0. The goal came seconds after Pegula left his seat to big cheers. Shoulda stayed put, Terry!
End-1st: Stillman will get a cross-checking penalty to start the second period. Shots are 22-13 for Buffalo. That equals Buffalo's season high and is their third 20+-shot period in the last five games.