ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Greetings from somewhere near Bemidji, which is seemingly the height of the press box in the XCel Energy Center as we get set for the Sabres and the Wild. But don't think I'm just blindly griping. This is one of the most spacious places I've been to. There's even hooks for your coats a few feet behind each seat. The view is sensational. It's just high-high-high. But they got big monitors right in front of us for replays. This will work fine. And great elevators. Hey, Calgary and Edmonton: Look, no catwalks!
And the people? Couldn't be any nicer. Press box attendants, elevator attendants, food service workers in the press room (kudos to the frisbee-sized chocolate chip cookies), anyone you meet here. There's even a by-name greeting to all of the Buffalo media in the game notes. Blown away.
So now that I've extended all the thanks, I got one small quibble: The Wild is making the Slug gaffe. You know. That one. Using the Sabres' old logo in their building. Now, the graphic on the scoreboard is correct. Some places haven't figured that one out yet (I'm talking to you, Islanders). But there are banners for every NHL team in the rafters here -- a great touch -- and Buffalo's is the old, ugly slug (it's in the back row in the shot at left, almost directly across from my seat in the rafters. Click the pic for a bigger view).
I know that Ted Black, and by extension Terry Pegula, are taking notes on just about everything since they took over. I certainly have my lists but here would be one of the biggest I would say to them on behalf of fans: Eradicate the slug. Everywhere. No TV networks should make the mistake (that's you, TSN). No arena scoreboard graphics, no banners, nothing.
And the big one: By opening day next season, I expect the slug to be gone off the scoreboard at HSBC Arena. It was pure laziness that it wasn't gone this year. And I'm sure there was money involved too. Those big slugs are involved in the smoke after goals, etc and lots would have to be changed so I don't think anything will be done this year. But that's not the logo anymore. The fans hate it. They got their classic swords back. Now it's time for the Sabres to go all the way with it and tell everyone in the hockey world loud and proud how they want to be represented.
My memo to the Sabres when it comes to details like that and so many others: You're in the NHL. Act like it. Too many corners cut in recent years that will hopefully be rounded off now.
End of rant. Stay tuned for notes from the warmup and our live game blog as the Sabres go for the points to finally get into the top eight in the East.
Warmups: Jhonas Enroth in goal for the Sabres with Patrick Lalime backing up. Ryan Miller will get a total night off like he did Feb. 15 in Montreal. Jose Theodore in goal for Minnesota and he's been hot (2-1-, 1.61 GAA, .959 save pct in his last four appearances). ... Buffalo has all seven defensemen on the ice. We'll see if Mike Weber sits again. Assume that would be the case. ... No Cal Clutterbuck for the Wild after he was felled by the ridiculous hit from behind from Islanders thug Trevor don't-call-him-Clark Gillies. That got a richly deserved 10-game suspension.
The scratches are in: Mike Weber, Mike Grier, Jochen Hecht, Ryan Miller.
The Wild's radio team is seated right next to me and they had a question about the Sabres' goaltending situation that I answered. Then the gent introduced himself. It's longtime former Minnesota North Stars defenseman Tom Reid, the Fort Erie, Ont., native who was a longtime owner of a well-known sporting goods store that catered to hockey. Awesome. You just never know who you'll meet in this gig.
Sabres starters: Gerbe-Gaustad-Kaleta-Butler-Myers. Goal: Enroth
Wild starters: Brunette-Cullen-Miettinen-Zidlicky-Zanon. Goal: Theodore
Of note: It looks like a rib problem for Ennis on the bench.
4:14 left: Stafford wins it with a spectacular goal. Shades of Pominville '06 the way he cut in front. His 26th. Sabres win, 3-2
7:48 p.m. The puck is dropped. As you would expect, no Kaleta on the bench. Mancari takes his spot with Gaustad and Gerbe.
17:00 left: Two good saves by Theodore on Ennis and a Niedermayer backhand.
15:13 left: Another close call as Connolly steals in the zone and fires one off the post past a beaten Theodore. The Sabres officially announce Kaleta will not return.
12:32 left: No doubt this is a better period for the Sabres so far. Shots are 7-4.
11:00 left: Another near miss for Niedermayer on the backhand and a scrum develops with McCormick getting the better of Clayton Stoner.
6:00 left: Still tied.
5:40 left: Enroth with the save of the night on Andrew Brunette on a breakaway as he tried to deke to the backhand.
1:54 left: Long, long stretch with no whistles. We should note the Sabres would move into eighth if they get a point here. They would have 71 points in 65 games while Carolina has 71 in 66. But, of course, they want two. How about another Enroth shootout win?
40.6 left: Another injury problem as Ennis was taken down behind the Wild net and is in pain at the bench. Wrist/shoulder/rib? Hard to tell from up here.
On to OT: We're tied at 2-2 and the Sabres officially move into eighth place in the East. Shots are 32-26 for Buffalo. The Sabres are 6-7 in game-deciding OT goals this year. The Wild are 5-1. Meanwhile, Buffalo is 5-1 in shootouts and Minnesota just 2-5
6:57 p.m.: The puck is dropped. Sabres have 1:18 left on the power play.
18:40 left: PP ends as Stafford and Vanek are foiled on great chances. But another terrible point giveaway, this time by Leopold, gave the Wild's Madden a chance to break out but his shot went wide. That keeps happening.
17:56: STOP THE GAME. ROB NIEDERMAYER HAS SCORED. Pounded a Sekera rebound between Theodore's legs for, finally and amazingly, his first of the year. Sabres lead, 2-0.
12:26 left: The Wild is getting chances. A loose puck just went in front to John Madden but he fired it wide.
11:55 left: Leopold for hooking. Terrible call. Barely touched the Minnesota forward -- who then crashed into Enroth. We've seen lots of goaltender interference calls on that one this season.
8:41 left: Wild also struggling on the PP, drawing lots of boos. Shots are currently 14-14 and you have to like how sharp Enroth has been, out at the top of the crease and moving well. Helps that the Wild have fired wide on a few good chances.
5:47 left: The Wild finally get close as Warren Peters has a tap-in on a 2-on-1 with Brad Staubitz, with Leopold late on the scene and Morrisonn doing little to guard the play. It was an awesome long pass from deep in the defensive zone from Brent Burns to set it all up. Sabres lead, 2-1.
3:59 left: More trouble. Myers goes for hooking.
2:27 left: Bigger trouble. The Wild converts as Marek Zidlicky one-times a low shot along the ice past Enroth after a great pass from Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Game tied, 2-2. I guess a 2-0 lead is the worst one in the NHL to have. Insane.
End-2nd: It's 2-2 and shots are 20-17 for the Wild (14-11 in that period). Just at the horn, Kaleta blocked a bullet from Greg Zanon and was down in a heap. Looked like a direct hit on the left foot. Going from bad to worse here.
6:08 p.m.: The puck is dropped.
18:37 left: Pominville puts Buffalo on top on a 2-on-1. Great pass from Montador on the backhand coming up on the play put Pominville at almost the same spot as yesterday's winner in Philly. Vanek with the steal at the Sabres line set it up. Great start. Sabres lead, 1-0.
17:50 left: Stafford barely misses a rebound from in tight that would have put the Sabres up two in a hurry.
17:07 left: Theodore stops McCormick on a 2-on-1 and the rebound just gets past Niedermayer, who would have had a tap-in for his first of the season. Wild VERY loose so far.
15:30 left: Just watched the replay of the near-miss. Niedermayer simply stopped skating and watched McCormick. If he goes hard to the net, he has an easy goal. Another terrible play by a guy who should know better.
14:03 left: Nidermayer slapper stopped by Theodore. Shots are 4-0 for Buffalo. McCormick pulled away out of the zone to start a 3-on-2. He's skating very well so far.
13:04 left: Wild's first shot is a good one from Antti Miettinen from the right circle.
11:00 left: Shots are 5-2 for Buffalo. The lines so far have been Gerbe-Gaustad-Kaleta, Vanek-Boyes-Pominville, Ennis-Connolly-Stafford and Niedermayer-McCormick-Mancari. Defense pairs stay the same: Butler-Myers, Sekera Montador and Leopold-Morrisonn.
10:36 left: Nice save by Enroth on Matt Cullen on a 2-on-1 after the puck hopped past Morrisonn in the neutral zone.
8:30 left: Vanek is going to score in his homecoming if this keeps up. He's had the puck on a string. Just undressed Greg Zanon to get in alone but shot wide.
6:10 left: Zidlicky for hooking a few seconds after Sekera took an awfully high hit from Brad Staubitz in the corner that wasn't whistled.
4:10 left: A zero power play. No shots. No zone time. Nothing. Bad passing, No retrievals.
42.5 left: Guess they'll try it again. Chuck Kobasew for hooking Stafford, who drove hard into the Minnesota end.
End-1st: Sabres hold their 1-0 lead as Enroth stops John Maddon on a partial break with six seconds left after Sekera's shot from the point is blocked. Poor point play is a reason for all these short-handed goals. Just can't keep happening. Shots were 6-6. Sabres had just two in the final 14 minutes.