I don't have a lot of deep thoughts to open with other than to greet you once again to my perch high above Section 319 in HSBC Arena for tonight's Sabres-Lightning matchup. One reason is you just let the games play out at this time of season with no buildup needed. The other is because I'm still frozen to the core from today's Bisons workout in Coca-Cola Field.
(Cheap plug alert: We'll have three Bisons stories in tomorrow's paper previewing the season in advance of Thursday's opener and a pair of videos here at TBN.com).
The snow was flying all around me as I stood on the field talking about what we might see this summer. Kudos to photog John Hickey for persevering as well. But at least the snow kept me in major hockey mode in April and this one tonight is so, so huge. Win tonight and get a Carolina loss tomorrow in regulation against Detroit and the Sabres are in.
It's a busy night on the out-of-town scoreboard among Eastern Conference contenders with Washington at Toronto at 7, Chicago at Montreal at 7:30, New Jersey at Pittsburgh at 7:30 and Philadelphia at Ottawa at 7:30. The Sabres, of course, control their destiny and are in complete Al Davis mode: Just win, baby.
Keep it here for faceoff.
Sabres starters: Gerbe-Connolly-Pominville-Butler-Myers. Goal: Enroth (who gets a well-deserved huge cheer). We're perplexed by the starting line. Gerbe spent Sunday with Gaustad and McCormick. Hmmm.
Lightning starters: Thompson-Lecavalier-St. Louis-Lundin-Ohlund. Goal: Roloson.
8:54 p.m. The puck is dropped.
19:43 left: Hold off on those Connolly plaudits. St. Louis intercepts his pass at the blue line and feeds Lecavalier in front for a quick wrister. Just like that we have a game. Sabres lead, 3-2. Uneasiness returns.
12:30 left: Apologize for the dearth of updates. Some laptop issues combined with a couple wireless issues. We'll see how it goes. Sabres holding on with just one shot in the period. Connolly's pass changed the momentum and really tarnishes his first three-point game of the season.
2:50 left: Been a bad third period for me folks. I might be back now. Sabres still leading 3-2.
13.6 left: The Lightning never got Roloson out. Great work by Gerbe, Gaustad, Mancari, Butler, among others. Vanek finally got the loose puck at center and drilled it -- and I mean drilled it -- home with a slapshot to make it 4-2 and give him his third career hat trick against Tampa. And the ice is littered. Vanek's 31st. Sabres lead, 4-2.
It's over: Great job by the Sabres to hold on in a nervous third period. If Carolina loses in regulation tomorrow against Detroit, this race is over. Sabres win, 4-2. And Enroth is 8-2-2. Bye-bye, Laffs. Toronto eliminated.
7:58 p.m.: The puck is dropped. Here's an odd stat: Sabres credited with no hits in the first period. Lightning with seven.
15:58 left: Enroth wtih a great save on Simon Gagne off a rebound. The only thing that has happened in the first four minutes as the Lightning keeps taking the air out of the game with Roloson freezing the puck.
15:30 left: Ellis-McCormick-Niedermayer have a 3-on-2 break and it's not offside. Why the whistle? Weber and Malone trading punches in the Buffalo zone. Well, Weber was trying to. Yikes, Malone crushed him with a couple rights. Weber is a willing customer but he's gotten killed a couple times this season.
14:56 left: Myers goes for cross-checking Lecavalier. They looked like they might go but Lecavalier smartly backed off.
14:37 left: Lecavalier goes for interference, ruunning through Montador from behind. Montador hit Sekera, his leg buckled and he looked gimpy going off the ice.
12:00 left: Vanek on the backhand for No. 30. Nifty. His second of the night. First time since 2007-08 the Sabres have had two 30-goal men (Vanek and Roy did it then). Vanek has 21 career goals in 24 games against Tampa, second to the 23 goals he had against Boston. Sabres lead, 2-1.
8:35 left: Butler for slashing, a pretty good two-hander on Steve Downie's hand. Shots are 6-4 for Tampa in this period.
7:41 left: Roloson stops Connolly on a 2-on-1 with Stafford. I like the fact Connolly kept it and fired a good wrist shot. No problem there. Good save.
6:14 left: Like I said, keep shooting. Connolly goes down the other wing, from the right side, on a 3-on-2, and fires another scorching wrister past Roloson on the stick side. His 13th. Sabres lead, 3-1.
3:30 left: Myers and Gaustad both miss a goalmouth pass with an open net staring them in the face.
2:30 left: Tampa is prone to short-circuits defensively and once you put the Lightning down, they really open up and seem to go haywire. Remember the six-goal outburst in February down south? This one was tight-tight-tight. Not now.
End-2nd: Big ovation as Sabres retreat to the room with a 3-1 lead as the playoffs get ever-so-closer. Shots were 8-6 for Tampa and are 17-16 for the Bolts but that's not the important stat.
17:02 left: Sabres have the first three shots as Ennis-Boyes-Stafford hem the Bolts in for a minute and get two great chances, one each for Stafford and Boyes.
9:31 left: After a long, long, long, loooong stretch with no whistles, we finally get one. The Sabres have a 5-4 edge in shots. The Boyes line is looking very dangerous tonight. Good bit of backchecking on one shift by McCormick and then Ellis. Solid start.
The lines so far are Gerbe-Connolly-Pominville, Ennis-Boyes-Stafford, Vanek-Gaustad-Mancari, Ellis-McCormick-Niedermayer. Defense pairs are Butler-Myers, Sekera-Weber and Gragnani-Montador.
6:07 left: The Lightning get on the board as Ryan Malone tips home a Mike Lundin shot from the right point standing just in front of Enroth. Myers didn't take him out. Sabres haven't done a whole lot since the big Boyes line shift in the early going. Bolts haven't either. Until now. Shots are 6-5 for Tampa. Lightning leads, 1-0.
444 left: Tyrell goes for interference, knocking down Montador in front of the Buffalo net.
4:31 left: Lundin fires a rolling puck from his zone over the glass behind the bench. Whole crowd called the delay of game. Two-man advantage for 1:47. Huge chance.
3:42 left: Two blocks and a Roloson save on a Pominville one-timer.
3:28 left: Big stop on Ennis, who takes return pass from Vanek to Roloson's left.
3:15 left: Vanek tips home the Pominville blast from the left point, with the puck dribbling through Roloson's legs. Vanek's 29th. Game tied 1-1. Have to like how Sabres won all but one faceoff on the 5-on-3 and how Vanek stopped the puck at the point on the one Buffalo lost.
2:25 left: Lightning back to full strength. Buffalo had four shots on the power play.
1:22 left: Enroth with a big save on Lecavalier in the slot after a bad giveaway behind the net by Sekera, who has been uneven to say the least the last few games.
End-1st: Tied at 1-1. Shots are 10-9 for Buffalo.
taggedSabres game day