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Live from the Arena: Sabres vs. Preds

If it seems like we all just left this space, it's because we did! Greetings just 19 hours later from HSBC Arena as the Sabres get back at it against the Nashville Predators, a team they haven't played since a 1-0 win in Bridgestone Arena on Oct. 10, 2009 -- and haven't met here since that dreary we-want-refunds 2-0 loss on Dec. 1, 2008. This is just Nashville's seventh trip to HSBC and the Preds are 4-1-1 in the first six.

And it's as huge a game for Nashville as it is for the Sabres. As we start play today, the Preds are one point in the playoffs, holding on to eighth place in the incredibly crowded Western Conference.

Quick roster notes from the warmup: Shaone Morrisonn back in on defense for Buffalo and Steve Montador is out. I don't think this is a healthy scratch. Lindy Ruff said after last night's 8-2 win over Atlanta that Montador missed time during the contest because of a lower body problem -- and then caught his finger in the bench door too. Ouch. 

Ryan Miller will go back to back for the Sabres, as Lindy Ruff pretty much hinted he would Friday. This is his 60th game of the season and he's 30-21-7, 2.66, .914.

The Preds beat Detroit, 3-1, at home last night and got here in the 2 a.m. range. So they're sitting Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne (27-20-8, 2.09, .930) and going with backup Anders Lindback (10-5-2, 2.58, .914). Nashville, it should be noted is currently leading the Jennings Trophy race for fewest goals allowed in the league.

Out of town, Carolina is idle, so the Sabres can pull four points ahead of the Canes with a win and both teams would have 10 games left. Meanwhile, the Devils are in last-gasp mode, playing at Columbus in a 5 p.m. game. Two huge ones out West that Nashville will be watching: Chicago at Phoenix at 7 and Calgary at Anaheim at 8. The Hawks and Preds are tied with 84 points while the Ducks and Flames are one back at 83.

Keep it here for all your updates.

---Mike Harrington

5 p.m.: Sabres officially scratch Montador, Kaleta, Hecht, Lalime.

Sabres starters: Vanek-Connolly-Pominville-Sekera-Myers. Goal: Miller
Predators starters: Spaling-Smithson-Tootoo-Blum-Klein (who ARE these guys?). Goal: Lindback

I like how we're no longer announcing the opponent as "the NHL's" Nashville Predators. That was so sophomoric. What the heck league did we think they were from. Good move. Another plus I failed to give credit for last night: NCAA Tournament scores on the out of town boards. Good move II.


Of note: Sabres 8-7 in overtime deciders. Preds are just 1-6. No excuse for this game to still be going. This baby was over. And what is Vanek thinking now with all the chances he's missed in this one?

4:33 left: Ridiculous. Miller bursts right off as the Preds win it on the first shot by Erat. Preds win 4-3.

Third Period

6:53 p.m.: The puck is dropped.

16:20 left: Right now, it seems like Vanek is never scoring again. He just flubbed a great Butler feed. But all that aside, Vanek has been dominant with the puck and made a great steal in the Buffalo zone on his previous shift.

15:06 left: Suter for cross checking as Gerbe explodes into the Preds' zone on a 1-on-2.

14:39 left: Pominville. Post. No population addition.

11:51 left: Lindback stop a Mancari slapper for a faceoff. That's Buffalo's 30th shot of the night. Sabres entered the game third in the league and tied for tops in the East in shots on goal, averaging 33.1 per game.

9:09 left: Clock keeps ticking. Good period with the lead. Shots are just 4-4. Miller stops Tootoo from in tight to keep the two-goal lead intact.

7:21 left: Vanek stopped again in tight on Pominville feed.

6:00 left: Mancari has a wicked slapper. Unleashed one here that Lindback gloved.

3:00 left: A huge two points very close now.

2:27 left: Uh-oh. Terrible play by Sekera losing the puck right next to the net and Geoffion pokes it by a surprised Miller to make things nervous again. Sabres lead, 3-2.

1:28 left: Faceoff in Buffalo zone.

1:23 left: You gotta be kidding me. Lose the faceoff and Geoffrion tips Franson's shot past Miller for the hat trick. Game tied, 3-3.

1:02 left: Pominville slapper stopped.

24.3 left: Miller stops Kostitsyn from the slot.

8.0: Miller stops Kostitsyn again to save a point.

On to OT: Big boos. It's 3-3. Shots were 10-9 for Buffalo and 38-25 through regulation.

Second Period

5:59 p.m. The puck is dropped. Preds are 24-4-7 when scoring first and 19-4-6 when leading after one.

19:15 left: Terrible opening shift by the Sabres. Myers with a blatant giveaway and Miller stops Martin Erat in alone.

15:45 left: Vanek robbed again on two chances from in front, including a flip to the edge of the crease that he couldn't lift enough.

14:12 left: Sabres a mess in their own end this period. Morrisonn and Weber not much of a pair on this shift. Miller comes through again. shots are 5-2 for Nashville.

12:56 left: Sensational work down low by Gaustad and Gerbe and Gerbe finally pounds it in. His 11th. The little guy has been great lately. Game tied, 1-1. And much thanks to the game presentation staff for not keeping the score off for eons. Seems like today is a quick  flip-off, flip-on.

12:14 left: Bang. A 2-on-1 with Vanek making the steal at the line and Connolly going in to beat Lindback with a quick snapper. Sabres lead, 2-1. Basketball timeout, Nashville. Vanek didn't score there but he sure made the play at the line. Connolly's 11th also.

9:40 left: The Gaustad line dominates another shift wtih Gerbe nearly connecting again on a diving one-handed poke of a Gaustad pass. Gaustad and Gerbe are driving the Preds crazy down low.

9:10 left: This game has been terribly officiated, with penalties on both sides not called as guys are getting tripped and hauled down all over the place. And there was a brutal missed icing call in the first period too. We finally have our first penalty, too many men on the ice on the Preds.

2:38 left: Cody Franson for slashing. Got egged on by Gerbe and couldn't resist.

1:00 left: The Sabres convert as Ennis takes a nice drop pass from Stafford and uses Boyes as a decoy before ripping home a quick snapper off Lindback. Ennis' 19th. Sabres lead, 3-1. Assist to Miller too.

22.2 left: Puck gets behind Miller but doesn't go in as he pulls it just in front of line. Fortunate bounce.

End-2nd: Sabres lead, 3-1. Shots are 17-10 for Buffalo. Huge period.

First Period

5:08 p.m.: The puck is dropped.

17:00 left: No whistles for three minutes. A fabulous first shift by Vanek-Connolly-Pominville almost ended up with a goal in the first 30 seconds again. Connolly's shot was dropped by a shaky Lindback and Vanek just missed on a great Connolly feed, fanning on his shot from the right of the crease.

15:40 left: Ennis flying and unleashes a wicked snap shot from his off side that beats Lindback but cranks off the left post.

13:16 left: Blake Geoffrion's pass to old friend J.P. Dumont in the crease goes in off a sliding Gaustad. Predators lead, 1-0. And it's tough to fall behind this team the way it plays defense.

12:19 left: Geoffrion, by the way, is the grandson of late Montreal great Bernie Boom Boom Geoffrion. He's the Predators' first Tennessee-raised player and has four goals in 11 games since being called up from Milwaukee.

11:50 left: Connolly stopped again. Sabres have a 5-2 edge in shots. Three were great chances plus the Ennis post doesn't count. But Preds lead.

7:10 left: Vanek will score in this game if this keeps up. Just put one behind Lindback but out the other side. Sabres converted those last night.

4:46 left: McCormick stopped on a 2-on-1 with Mancari after Gerbe created space at the Buffalo line. Lindback has been good and lucky so far. Shots are 6-5 for Bufffalo.

3:17 left: Tootoo cranks a one-timer off the left post past a beaten Miller. Quite a loud ping we heard all the way up here.

2:02 left: Really like how Myers keeps pushing the envelope joining the rush. It's created a lot of pressure and Lindback has had to make a couple good stops. A huge change in Myers' game the second half of the season.

End 1st: Preds lead 1-0. Shots are 11-6 for Buffalo. No penalties, although Vanek got taken down twice on his last shift. No call in either case.


Cooke's elbow is costly to Penguins -- and Sabres

No help for the Sabres in Pittsburgh today as the Penguins gave up four third-period goals and lost to the Rangers, 5-2. So New York has 82 points, four ahead of the Sabres as Buffalo has two games in hand heading into the 5 p.m. faceoff against Nashville.

The big story coming from Consol Energy Center, however, concerns Penguins agitator Matt Cooke, who took an incredibly foolish major for elbowing early in the third period with his team in a 2-1 lead that turned around the game. What is hypocritical Pens owner Mario Lemieux going to say about this one? He said teams should be held responsible for their players' actions after the schmaltz last month on Long Island and as part of last week's GM meetings proposed a system of team fines.

Based on Cooke's latest indiscretion, I think Lemieux should either start writing checks or do the right thing and release one of the league's dirtiest players if he wants to make a statement on head shots. Lemieux should also shut his mouth about any other team in the league as long as he employs Mr. Cooke.

Here's the video of the play and then vote in our poll for what penalty Cooke will get.

---Mike Harrington


Sunday morning NHL papers

Happy St. Patty's Parade Day, which should have exclusive events rights to this Sunday every March. As it is, the Sabres will also be in the spotlight with a 5 p.m. game against Nashville. It'll be interesting to see how much crossover there is between the two events. I, um, might kind of sort of know one writer, er, person, who is attending both.

Anyway, with an afternoon game, there is no morning skate. Here instead are your Sunday morning papers, starting right here in the goal-filled B-lo:

*The Sabres, shut out in their previous game, rebounded early and often against Atlanta. They trounced the Thrashers, 8-2, allowing fans to shout "We want nine!" as their team solidified its playoff standing.

"That was probably the most energy I've felt in this building for a long time," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Saturday. "When there's a game that has that many scoring chances, you score that many goals, that's great entertainment -- especially when you win."

The eighth-place Sabres moved two points ahead of Carolina with one fewer game played. They can move into a seventh-place tie with the New York Rangers today by beating Nashville at 5 p.m. in the arena.

*Bucky Gleason writes the Sabres sure looked motivated in an 8-2 victory over the Thrashers, one of the teams chasing Buffalo in the Eastern Conference. Today marks the first day of spring, and games are tumbling off the NHL schedule. It has been a long and trying season, but the Sabres managed to wedge themselves into a heated playoff race.

The pressure has been mounting.

Buffalo couldn't have asked for a better response than the one it had Saturday. The Sabres did what Dominik Hasek did. They dominated. They won more races, had much better goaltending, battled harder around the net, were more desperate and more opportunistic than Les Thrash.

*Mark Mancari is a scoring machine in the American Hockey League. He's been mostly a non-factor in the NHL. Same story this year. A career-high 32 goals and 64 points in Portland. No goals and one point in his first nine games with the Sabres.

That changed Saturday as Mancari finally had a breakout game in the Sabres' 8-2 romp past the Atlanta Thrashers.

"Until you get that goal, you're gripping your stick and thinking, 'When is it going to come? When is it going to come?'" Mancari said. "It finally did and after that other bounces came."

*The Sabres are alone in eighth place and if they win in regulation or overtime they will gain the tiebreaker edge over the Rangers.

*Here is the Thrashers' version of their flop, courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I have to watch exactly what I say here because a game of that magnitude to come out and play the way we did is completely unacceptable in my mind,” said goaltender Chris Mason, who relieved starter Ondrej Pavelec to start the second period. “I really can’t believe it. It’s disheartening to have a game like that and not be willing to pay the price and do the things you need to do to win, understand the magnitude of this game and the playoff implications. That was a terrible game.”

*The Nashville Predators, meanwhile, continued their recent surge on Saturday night -- and now they're back in a playoff spot. Jonathon Blum scored a go-ahead power-play goal at 8:12 of the third period, and the Predators beat the visiting Detroit Red Wings, 3-1, for their fourth victory in five games.

*As they did a year ago, the Philadelphia Flyers clinched a playoff berth by winning a shootout -- but this time, they did it with plenty of time to spare.

Ville Leino scored in the sixth round of the shootout Saturday night to give the Flyers a 3-2 victory at Dallas and assure them of their 35th trip to the playoffs since entering the NHL in 1967. They clinched with three weeks left in the season -- a big change from last year, when Philadelphia beat the New York Rangers, 2-1, in a shootout on the final day of the season to earn the last playoff berth.

*Mark Parrish's backhanded rebound eluded Braden Holtby with 2:51 gone in the extra session, lifting Portland (42-18-5-2, 91 points) to a come-from-behind 4-3 win that popped the Pirates into the American Hockey League's Atlantic Division lead.

*USA Hockey failed to repeat in the world junior championships in Buffalo this year, but the U.S. is giving its last victorious coach another chance. Dean Blais said leading the U.S. National Junior Team to a gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championship in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was the greatest achievement of his illustrious coaching career. He'll have an opportunity to equal that feat at the 2012 WJC in Alberta, Canada.

*The Sabres have taken part in two Kraft Hockeyville events, including a September visit to Dundas, Ont., and the five finalists for this year's host city have been announced.

---John Vogl

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Live from the Arena: Sabres vs. Thrashers

Greetings from high atop and above Section 319 of HSBC Arena for tonight's Sabres-Thrashers game. Look for a big roar when Dominik Hasek is introduced prior to this one to drop a ceremonial first puck. No. 39 is back in town for a big Hasek's Heroes weekend and meet the media about a half-hour ago. Be sure to go my earlier post to hear the audio of Dom's session.

Since we're on the topic of Hasek, let's talk about Ryan Miller for a bit. The Sabres need more from No. 30 if they want to push into the playoffs. Miller's is just 3-3-1 in March with a 2.71 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. Pedestrian at best but about what he's done every month this season outside of a strong November (2.29, .929). Miller really needs to step it up at home -- where he's just 2-4-2 in his last eight decisions but has posted a 2.37 GAA and .927 save mark in that stretch.

Miller is 29-21-7 on the season -- or 29-28 to you and me. Last year, he was 41-18-8 -- or 41-26. Big difference. Let's see if Miller can make the difference in Lindy Ruff's so-called best-of-12 series heading to the finish line.

Sabres starters: Vanek-Connolly-Pominville-Sekera-Myers. Goal: Miller
Thrashers starters: Ladd-Little-Wheeler-Bogosian-Enstrom. Goal: Pavelec

7:10 p.m.: Hasek gets a roaring standing ovation as he's introduced and drops the puck between Thomas Vanek and Andrew Ladd. Players on both sides tapping their sticks and Lindy Ruff and the Buffalo staff applauding heartily.He exits behind the penalty box through the stands, high-fiving folks on both sides of the aisle. Just trot him out for a couple minutes and people love it. That's how you do things in the 40th anniversary season. Should have been like this all the time all season. Thanks for nothing, Tom and Larry. Great moment.

Third Period

No idea how much time left (turns out to be 16:33): Boyes takes a rebound off the boards and taps it home. That will be Mancari's third point of the night, a first for him at the NHL level. Sabres lead, 6-2.

14:22 left: Boyes stopped on the doorstep. Barring a miracle, the Sabres will be 3-0-1 this year against the Thrashers. Bad performance by Le Thrash when they needed it. Buffalo will have a two-point lead over Carolina with a game in hand to be played here tomorrow against Nashville.

10:44 left: Still 6-2. Internet struggling. Doing print stuff. Shots 6-6 in this period. 

3:25 left: Tyler Ennis just got into a bear hug with Evander Kane. He probably had second thoughts. Good idea. Officials break 'em up.

3:08 left: Niedermayer breaks in and backhands one home. First two-goal game as a Sabre. Doubles his season total to four. Sabres lead, 7-2.

No idea how much time left: 2:40 left: The Thrashers have totally quit. See ya next season. Connolly pounds one in. Sabres lead, 8-2.

It's over:  An 8-2 win. Shots were 30-28 for Atlanta. Miller gets his 30th win of the season. See you tomorrow night for the Predators.

Second Period

Of note: Great stuff from Sabres info guru Kevin Snow: Ryan Miller is now 12-1 all-time on penalty shots. Among active goalies who have faced 10 or more, only Marty Turco is better (13-14). Opponents are now 18 of 54 on penalty shots all-time against the Sabres. ... Mancari's goal was his first since March 10, 2010 vs. Dallas. Butler's was his first since Jan. 18, 2010 at Phoenix.

8:07 p.m.: The puck is dropped.

15:16 left: We're having a terrible Internet night up here. Got on just in time to tell you that Alexander Burmistrov just burned Miller over his right shoulder with another terrible, bad-angle goal. Sabres lead, 3-2.

13:00 left: I neglected to mention Chris Mason is in net for Atlanta. That's OK. Everyone here did too. He wasn't announced until three minutes into the period.

11:00 left: They just changed the third Buffalo goal to Niedermayer on the deflection. The right call. That's his third of the season and first at home. Butler goes back to zero. Of course, they still have the wrong time on the PA, but who's quibbling.

8:49 left: Gerbe and Mancari bang away at a loose puck in the crease and Gerbe is finally the one to lift it past Mason for his 10th of the year. He's been feisty all night. Sabres lead, 4-2. Mancari with an assist for his second point.

6:59 left: Ennis roofs a breakaway over Mason's shoulder. Fabulous shot. Would have been a penalty shot had he not because Bogosian threw a stick at him. Ennis' 18th. Sabres lead, 5-2. Sabres had just one shot in the first 11 minutes of this period. They have six in the last three minutes and two goals.

6:00 left: Vanek foiled on a breakaway. Hits the post, hits Mason in the back, hits the crossbar. Too bad Vanek wasn't trying to play a game of H-O-R-S-E. No one could do that if they tried.

End-2nd: Mancari went for hooking with 14 seconds left. Sabres hold their 5-2 lead. Shots are 12-8 for Atlanta and 21-19 for the Thrashers through two.

First Period

7:11 p.m.: The puck is dropped.

19:36 left: Hasek effect. Myers to Connolly behind the net to Pominville in front. Bang, No. 29 puts it home.  Sabres lead, 1-0. 

18:50 left: Heard sirens and horns. Didn't hear this new goal song we heard all about heading into Tuesday's shutout. Maybe they didn't have it cued up at the start?

15:50 left: Boyes gets in alone and is stopped on the backhand.

13:44 left: The Hasek ceremony was terrific and long overdue. How good is April 8 going to be with the Sabres inviting any alum who wants to come? I want to see Randy Wyrozub again. 

12:58 left: Evander Kane hooked from behind by Leopold. Penalty shot. Loses the puck. No real shot.

11:54 left: Miller beaten off the faceoff on a terrible angle by Chris Thorburn. Review. is it in? It's in. Miller can't let that one in off a faceoff. What did I write at the start of this blog? Uh-huh. Not the way to make The Dominator proud. Game tied, 1-1.

11:07 left: Myers hard to the net to create a rush and Anthony Stewart goes for holding.

10:08 left: Ladd gets four minutes for high sticking Ennis off a faceoff. So a two-man advantage for 1:01.

8:04 left: Crazy power play ends on Mancari tipping home his first on a Myers shot from the point. Came shortly after Myers lost the puck at the blueline and gave Radek Dvorak a clean breakaway. Sabres had three other great chances and Connolly also hit a post clean. Sabres lead, 2-1.

6:25 left: Vanek stopped on a breakaway and he was slashed away at and no call. Vanek and Ruff unhappy, especially in the wake of the weak penalty shot call earlier.

5:00 left: You have to love the Sabres suggestion box. Terrific for the fans to have their voice heard. Here would be one of my suggestions to Ted Black: The game presentation staff started this one a few games ago and it's driving the media CRAZY -- Whenever the Sabres score a goal, every game clock in the building is wiped out for a few seconds after the goal, both on the main board and the end ribbon boards for this crazy blue-and-gold Sabres logo display. That can't happen. Stat people have no time, radio and TV announcers have no time and your intrepid blogger has no time. It's amateurish. I'm already getting ready to yell at the Bisons for taking down the score between innings because I know that's coming in April on their new board.

Repeating: THE TIME AND SCORE SHOULD ALWAYS BE SOMEWHERE IN THE BUILDING AT ALL TIMES. Thank you. Returning to our regular programming.

NO IDEA HOW MUCH TIME IS LEFT: (OK, it's 4:51): Sabres win the draw and Butler flips it from the left point. Either Niedermayer or Grier tipped it. Sabres lead, 3-1. Update: It's Butler's goal for now.

2:20 left: They announced the time of the Butler goal as 15:10. It was 15:09. That's because the stat crew can't see the time, game staff.

1:48 left: Bogosian for tripping. Another power play coming.

26.0 left: Nothing much happens. Vanek gone for hooking.

End-1st: Sabres hold their 3-1 lead. Shots are 11-9 for Buffalo.


Hasek happy to get return trip to Buffalo

Dominik Hasek just completed a session with the media prior to appearing on the Sabres' new MSG pregame show and dropping the puck for a ceremonial faceoff.

Hasek, now 46, said he was happy with his season for Moscow Spartak in the KHL and said he will in fact try to play one more year in Russia. There was no real earth-shattering news from the interview, other than the media hearing that rapid-fire, often-imitated voice.

Hasek was in good spirits talking about driving again on the 33 yesterday, his first meeting with Terry Pegula earlier tonight, about Ryan Miller, and about getting named the No. 1 Sabre of all-time in our poll of the franchise's all-time players in October. Hear the audio of the session below.

Dominik Hasek

---Mike Harrington

Morrisonn the odd D-man out against Atlanta

Greetings from HSBC Arena, where the Sabres are in the midst of their pregame skate. Well, all the healthy Sabres except for Shaone Morrisonn. that is.

Morrisonn will be the defenseman scratched tonight for the game against Atlanta, his second benching in six games. Morrisonn has one goal, five points and an even rating in 55 games this season.

Coach Lindy Ruff said he'd like to keep all seven blue-liners fresh, and the scratch rotation saw Chris Butler benched last game and Steve Montador on the sidelines the game before that.

The goaltending matchup, as expected, is Ryan Miller versus Ondrej Pavelec.

---John Vogl

Sabres need to just take care of business

The Sabres have gotten a lot of help to get back into the playoff race. And they've done plenty of work on their own, going 19-10-4 since the new year. They enter tonight tied for eighth place with Carolina with two games in hand. They will play both of those games (tonight against Atlanta, Sunday against Nashville) before the Hurricanes get back on the ice again Tuesday.

They do, however, need to win these head-to-heads. The Sabres didn't put away Toronto last week when they had a chance, nor did they put away the Hurricanes Tuesday night. Now come the Thrashers for a last-stand game. Atlanta is four points back having played one more game, and is on a 4-1-1 run that includes two wins over Philadelphia. That's a pretty big answer to a 2-9-2 slide.

"There's nobody that's going to go away and we don't need teams to go away," coach Lindy Ruff said today. "We just need to take care of our own business and that's a great situation to be in. We're not Toronto. We're not Atlanta and we're not Jersey. We've been in that situation and that's a lot tougher situation to be in.

"We went out on a road trip and worked extremely hard to get where we're at. Let's just take care of business here."

After losing to Carolina Tuesday, the Hurricanes fell to the Leafs on Wednesday. The Leafs then fell Thursday at Florida and the Devils have dropped two straight to finally halt their momentum. Looked like the Sabres were going to get a big assist last night from the Islanders, but they allowed Carolina's tying goal inside the final five minutes and lost to the Canes in overtime, 3-2.

Still, Ruff is undaunted. The Sabres aren't chasing like they were in 2008 and 2009 when they fell short. Remember, he's calling it a "best-of-12": If the Sabres win seven of the last 12, they're almost certain to be in.

"We're in great position. We just have to win games,"Ruff said. "We don't have to look over our shoulder. We just have to put the work in. If we put the work in and create the opportunities, our key guys are going to have finish and take advantage of those situations. But it starts with getting the work done."

---Mike Harrington

Ruff on goalies: 'I'd like to see Ryan carry the ball'

When the Sabres hit the ice tonight against Atlanta in HSBC Arena, it will mark the end of their three-day breaks for the regular season. No more than two days off the rest of the way for the final 12 games. Tonight, in fact, starts the first of five remaining sets of back-to-back games. That's 10 of the last 12. Yikes.

So with a back-to-back tonight and tomorrow here against Nashville, followed by Tuesday's game in Montreal, are we looking at another Jhonas Enroth start? Not necessarily. When I asked Lindy Ruff about that after today's optional skate in the arena, he seemed to indicate it's no gimme Enroth plays tomorrow.

"It will be based on what the workload looks like for Ryan," Ruff said. "I'd like to see Ryan carry the ball. I think he's capable after having three days off of carrying the ball but that isn't etched in stone. We'll take a look at the workload and where he's at."

The Sabres need every point and Enroth was a little shaky in Sunday's win over Ottawa after having a week off. Maybe Miller plays the next three and Enroth goes in one of next week's back-to-backs here next week against Florida or New Jersey. It bears watching. 

There don't appear to be any lineup changes in the offing for the Sabres or Thrashers tonight. Miller (29-21-7, 2.67, .914) and Ondrej Pavelec (20-19-9, 2.68, 9.16) will be in goal in a matchup of pretty similar numbers other than the W-L records. Chris Butler looks to be the defense scratch for Buffalo.

Some key reminders: The new MSG pregame show starts tonight at 6:30 and Dominik Hasek will be a guest. No. 39, in town with Willie O'Ree for his Hasek's Heroes program, will then be part of a ceremonial pregame faceoff. Bet that brings the house down.

Also, a guest anthem singer just for tonight: Sarah Darling, who works under the Black River Entertainment label started by Terry and Kim Pegula in Nashville.

---Mike Harrington

Sabres invite all alumni back for final game

The Sabres have announced they have invited every player in team history to attend the regular-season home finale April 8. Team President Ted Black told The News about the plan during an exclusive tour of the dressing room earlier this month.

"Not only is this our way of saying ‘thank you’ to the fans, but it’s a chance for the fans to say ‘thank you’ to all the wonderful former players that have worn the Buffalo Sabres uniform over the past 40 years," Sabres owner Terry Pegula said in a statement. "I think this will be a very special night for everyone involved."

Every former player that attends will be part of a pregame Party in the Plaza red carpet event outside HSBC Arena from 5-7 p.m. Alumni will be dropped off at the red carpet in a car from their era, and will be available for autographs and pictures as they walk into the arena prior to the game against Philadelphia.

All attending alumni will also be honored in a pregame on-ice ceremony that will also include presentation of the 2010-11 Sabres MVP, Rookie of the Year and Hardest Working Player awards. In addition, an online vote will provide Sabres fans with the opportunity to make their choice for “The 7th Man” – the team’s Fan of the Year Award. Details of the online voting process will be announced shortly.

"Ever since we opened up the Sabres Suggestion Box, the fans kept telling us to bring back Fan Appreciation Night," Black said. "We have the greatest fans in the NHL, and they deserve to be treated that way. It’s not just about the game, we want to recognize our fans as well."

Throughout the game, season-ticket holders will be selected though random drawings to win a jersey off the back of a Sabres player. The winning fans will then be brought down to the ice and will receive their game-worn jersey directly from their selected player.

---John Vogl

Hecht misses practice

The Sabres skated today at Northtown Center in Amherst, but Jochen Hecht again missed the workout. The forward, who has an upper-body injury, will miss his second straight game Saturday when the Sabres host the Atlanta Thrashers in HSBC Arena.

---John Vogl

Remembering Rico

Have to give it up to the Sabres for the way they handled the immediate aftermath of Rick Martin's sudden death and the way they're continuing to remember the great left winger of the French Connection.

Today was team picture day, with the players donning their 40th anniversary blue jerseys for the official time capsule group shot. It was the first time, of course, new owner Terry Pegula was in the front row in the owner's chair and Pegula added a nice touch to the shot by holding a while No. 7 Martin jersey facing the camera.

In addition, the Sabres have painted a blue No. 7 outlined in gold in honor of Martin on the ice behind both nets for the remainder of the season. Next Thursday's memorial service in the arena figures to be a stirring tribute as well.

---Mike Harrington

Quick practice update

After dressing up in their alternate blues for their first team picture with new owner Terry Pegula, the Sabres are opening practice in HSBC Arena. The only players missing remain Jochen Hecht and goaltender Patrick Lalime. Patrick Kaleta came on the ice at the start of practice and took a few spins before leaving once drills started. Jhonas Enroth has shed the red and black Portland Pirates color scheme on his pads and has blue and gold ones. He's not going anywhere.

As he did Tuesday against Carolina, Chris Butler is the extra defenseman and is taking turns with Andrej Sekera alongside Tyler Myers. The other pairs remain Steve Montador-Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn-Mike Weber.

The forward lines are Vanek-Connolly-Pominville, Ennis-Boyes-Stafford, Gerbe-Gaustad-Mancari and Niedermayer-McCormick-Grier.

And another note: There is a blue number 7 surrounded in gold painted on the ice behind each net in honor of Rick Martin. Great touch again in Pegulaville.

---Mike Harrington

Inside the NHL -- Live Chat

East update: Leafs storm past Canes

The Toronto Maple Leafs got under the Sabres' skin Saturday night in the Air Canada Centre but they did the Blue and Gold a favor Wednesday night in Raleigh's RBC Center with a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Second-period goals 12 seconds apart by Dion Phaneuf and Tyler Bozak snapped a 1-1 tie and rookie goalie James Reimer, who was bad in Monday's loss against Tampa Bay, was solid in net. 

So here's the battle for eighth place up to the minute:

7. NYR 78 pts, 71 GP
8. BUF 76 pts, 70 GP
9. CAR 74 pts, 71 GP
10. TOR 72 pts, 71 GP
11. NJD 70 pts, 69 GP
12. ATL 70 pts, 70 GP

Also tonight, the Washington Capitals suffered a 3-2 loss in Detroit and were denied their 10th straight win and their bid to move a point ahead of Philadelphia for first place in the East. The Caps were 8-0 this month and 11-1 in their previous 12, a stretch that began with their 2-1 win over the Sabres Feb. 20 in that Sunday afternoon yawner that turned out to be Tom Golisano's last game as owner.

---Mike Harrington

Devils' incredible run continues

So are you scared about the Devils swooping in and taking a playoff spot now? You should be.

The law of averages says they have to cool down. But what if they never do? Jacques Lemaire's team is an incredible 23-3-2 in its last 28 games. Once 27 points out of a playoff spot, the Devils are now a stunning six back of the Sabres -- with a game in hand that they'll play Thursday night in Ottawa.

"You'd think there'd be a little chance," a coy Lemaire said after practice today when asked about his team making the playoffs. "Ask Buffalo coach and New York Rangers coach if it’s easy to make the playoffs, and Carolina coach. They’ve been there all year, and I know they still worry."

(A side note: The Newark Star-Ledger story linked above was written by former Buffalo News intern Jackie Friedman)

Once 10-29-2, the Devils finally climbed over .500 with Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Thrashers that moved them from 12th place in the East to 10th. The Sabres play them here March 26. When you look at the Devils' schedule, five of their last seven are at home. They could set themselves up very nicely on the four-game roadie that ends here.

Lemaire, meanwhile, has set himself up nicely for plenty of coach of the year votes. Amazing job. Just imagine if the Devils make the playoffs. Imagine if you're the Flyers or Capitals and your reward for the first round is the Devils. Yikes. The Eastern Conference would be well advised to make sure the Devils don't make the postseason party.

---Mike Harrington

Canes' Ward equals club records with 40-save shutout

How good was Carolina goaltender Cam Ward in Tuesday's 1-0 Canes victory in HSBC Arena? Ward's 40-save shutout equaled the most stops in a blanking of the Sabres in Buffalo's franchise history. Old friend Marty Biron also made 40 stops in a 3-0 win for Philadelphia here on Nov. 21, 2008.

Ward's 40 stops also tied the Hartford/Carolina franchise record for saves in a shutout, set by Jason Muzzati with 40 for Hartford at New Jersey on April 4, 1996 (10 days before he was tossed for fighting in the final game at the Aud).

It was the 10th time this season Ward has made 40 or more saves in a game -- and Carolina is 8-1-1 in those contests.

The Sabres were off today and return to the ice Thursday morning in the arena.

---Mike Harrington

Vote for your three stars

Live from the Arena: Sabres vs. Canes

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.

---Mike Harrington

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 

Third Period

Black-peg 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.

Second Period

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.

First Period

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.

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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 |

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 |

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 |