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Briere continues to haunt Sabres with stellar performances, widens playoff scoring lead over old team

The score in the playoffs since July 1, 2007? Danny Briere 36, Buffalo Sabres 33.

That's right, since being let go by the Sabres and signing with Philadelphia, Briere has outscored Buffalo in the postseason. Briere has 36 goals and 69 points in 64 playoff games with the Flyers. The Sabres, meanwhile, scored 18 times against Philly in their first-round loss last year and found the net 15 times against Boston in 2010.

Also, Briere has nine game-winning goals. The Sabres have five.

Yet no one in Sabres' management felt it was a good idea to lock up Briere.

"I don't think you spend $63 million to build your team around Danny," Larry Quinn said in February 2011 when he and fellow owner Tom Golisano sold the Sabres. "[Ryan] Miller is more of a guy, [Tyler] Myers is more of a guy. Tom's point is if you'd made those decisions you couldn't be paying [Tyler] Ennis, Myers, Miller, [Thomas] Vanek. You couldn't, so we made a choice. We'll see if we're wrong. It's not over yet."

I'd say it's over, especially after watching Briere put up seven goals in seven games this spring, including the overtime winner Sunday.

"He has his ups and downs, but he just picks it up in the playoffs. And that's what matters," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette told reporters. "He's a guy who consistently gets it done."

---John Vogl

Blues are new Stanley Cup favorite; which NHL teams will win in the second round?

The first round is over. The second-round matchups are set.

What does that mean? Well, it means there are new odds on who will win the Stanley Cup. As usual, the folks at Bovada have sent them to me.

And, as usual, they will come with this disclaimer: Gambling is bad. Your money is much better spent on concerts, women and whiskey.

Odds to win the Stanley Cup

St. Louis Blues                          15/4

New York Rangers                     9/2

Philadelphia Flyers                     9/2

Nashville Predators                    5/1

Los Angeles Kings                     13/2

New Jersey Devils                      9/1

Washington Capitals                  9/1

Phoenix Coyotes                       11/1

Odds to win Eastern Conference

New York Rangers                     7/4

Philadelphia Flyers                     2/1

New Jersey Devils                      9/2

Washington Capitals                  9/2

Odds to win Western Conference

St. Louis Blues                          9/5

Nashville Predators                    9/4

Los Angeles Kings                     3/1

Phoenix Coyotes                       5/1

---John Vogl

Devils work double overtime, Rangers end Sens to finalize NHL's elite eight

An overtime-filled first round came to a close Thursday night in the only way possible -- an overtime game. This one needed two OTs.

New Jersey rookie Adam Henrique scored 3:47 into the second overtime to give the Devils a 3-2 win over Florida in Game Seven.

"Exhausting," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "A fitting end to the series."

The sixth-seeded Devils will play the fifth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in the second round, with Game One on Sunday.

The New York Rangers also advanced with a Game Seven victory, holding off the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators for a 2-1 win.

"We found a way," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We were fortunate. I'm very happy with the group, and they should be real proud of themselves - for about an hour."

The top-seeded Rangers will play the No. 7 Washington Capitals starting Saturday.

---John Vogl

Capitals punch second-round ticket with Game Seven win; who's next?

There will not be a repeat winner of the Stanley Cup. The Bruins are done.

Washington's Joel Ward scored 2:57 into overtime Wednesday night to lift the Capitals into the second round with a 2-1 victory over Boston. The Bruins' elimination keeps the 1998 Detroit Red Wings as the last repeat winners of the Cup.

Washington's Braden Holtby made 31 saves. All 18 of Washington's playoff wins in the last four years have been by a rookie goalie, the Associated Press wrote.

Two players will join Ward with series-winning goals tonight. The final two first-round victors in the Eastern Conference will be determined in Game Sevens.

The eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators visit the top-seeded New York Rangers at 7 p.m. The third-seeded Florida Panthers host the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils at 8:30 p.m.

---John Vogl

Sabres' season-ticket price increase larger than past two seasons

It's going to cost more to watch the Sabres play next season, especially in the 100 Level.

The Sabres announced their season-ticket prices for the 2012-13 season today, and not surprisingly there are increases across the board. But after back-to-back years with 5 percent increases, the jump is larger this time.

Seats are going up $2 to $8 per game. Here is the breakdown by seating section, with the 2012-13 price, the 2011-12 price and the percentage difference:

200 Club    $99    $92    7.6 %

200 End    $83    $75    10.7 %

100 Preferred Rinkside    $89    $87    2.3 %

100 Level II Rinkside    $72    $70    2.9 %

100 Level III Rinkside    $61    $58    5.2 %

100 Preferred    $74    $69    7.3 %

100 Level II    $60    $54    11.1 %

100 Level III    $46    $41    12.2 %

100 Level IV    $40    $36    11.1 %

300 Level I    $43    $41    4.9 %

300 Level II    $32    $30    6.7 %

300 Level III    $25    $23    8.7 %

300 Level IV    $25    $23    8.7 %

The Sabres also announced they will host three preseason games next season, up from the two they hosted last year. Tickets range from $10 to $25, the same as last season.

The Sabres said the average ticket price will be approximately $53, well below the projected league average of $75. The Sabres say they ranked among the top five teams in the NHL for tickets sold and placed in the bottom five for average ticket price in each of the past five seasons.

Next season will also mark the debut of First Niagara Center as a smoke-free facility. There will no longer be designated smoking areas on arena property and fans will not be permitted to smoke on the grounds during any games or events.

---John Vogl

---Twitter.com/BuffNewsVogl

Sabres, Canucks agree: Cody Hodgson better off in Buffalo

It's not often there's a unanimous opinion on a trade. There is regarding the Cody Hodgson-for-Zack Kassian swap.

Buffalo is happy to have Hodgson, and Vancouver is happy he’s gone.

Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis conducted his season-ending news conference Tuesday, and the trade-deadline deal of two young prospects came up. Gillis was far from flattering with his remarks about Hodgson.

"We made a determination that he didn't want to be here, we built him into something we could move," Gillis told reporters in Vancouver. "There were six young players that I would have traded him for if any of them were ever made available. One was made available at the trade deadline, and it was Zack.”

There have been rumblings since the deal that Hodgson or a member of his camp asked out of Vancouver. Hodgson’s non-denial denials enhanced the speculation.

“"There clearly were issues that were ongoing," Gillis said. "I spent more time on Cody's issues than every other player combined on our team the last three years."

Darcy Regier made it clear he’s happy to have Hodgson in the Sabres’ organization. Asked to compare his season to that of other general managers, Regier’s first comments about his resume centered on the center.

“It’s exciting because Cody Hodgson has been a good addition, is going fit in very well with a group of players," Regier said, "not just the team as a whole but even a younger subset whether it’s Tyler Myers, [Tyler] Ennis, [Drew] Stafford, and I think that that is a positive.”

---John Vogl

Revamped Florida Panthers earning award nominations

Dale Tallon turned the Florida Panthers from perennial also-rans into second-round playoff hopefuls. Brian Campbell helped. Both are going to Las Vegas for their efforts.

The NHL has announced the three finalists for General Manager of the Year, and Tallon is on the list. He is joined by Nashville's David Poile and St. Louis' Doug Armstrong. Tallon traded for or signed 10 players last offseason, and the Panthers have become a group that can advance to the second round with a win over New Jersey tonight.

Campbell, one of the 10 players brought in by Tallon, played the most minutes in the NHL, was third in scoring among defensemen and took just three penalties all season. He is one of three finalists for the Lady Byng along with Edmonton's Jordan Eberle and the Islanders' Matt Moulson.

Meanwhile, Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul and Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty have been named finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, St. Louis' David Backes and Boston's Patrice Bergeron have been named the three finalists for the Selke Trophy.

The Selke, Masterton and Lady Byng winners are selected by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. The Awards Show will be held June 20 in Las Vegas.

---John Vogl

Amerks will try to avoid elimination tonight

Rochester gets to host Game Three of its first-round playoff series with Toronto tonight. If the Amerks don't win, it will be the only game in Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial.

The Marlies won the opening two games of the best-of-five series to send the Amerks home in a 2-0 hole. Both games, like all 10 regular-season matchups, were decided by one goal. Marcus Foligno and Phil Varone lead the Amerks with two goals and three points each, while T.J. Brennan has also scored twice.

If the Amerks win, they will host Game Four on Wednesday.

---John Vogl

 

Sabres expected to be shut out of awards as Hodgson fails to make cut for top rookie

For the second straight season, what happens in Buffalo, stays in Buffalo. There will be no vacations in Vegas.

The NHL has begun announcing finalists for postseason awards, with the Calder Trophy nominees kicking off the honor roll today. It's the only category in which the Sabres had an outside chance of producing a finalist. Center Cody Hodgson, acquired from Vancouver at the trade deadline, finished third among first-year players with 19 goals and was fifth with 41 points.

Hodgson, however, failed to finish among the top three vote-getters. New Jersey Devils center Adam Henrique, Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog and Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have been named this year's finalists for top rookie.

The winner will be announced June 20 at the awards show in Las Vegas.

The NHL will name the finalists for the Selke (top defensive forward) and Lady Byng (skill/sportsmanship) trophies Monday. The trios up for the Masterton Trophy (perseverance and dedication to hockey) and General Manager of the Year will be announced Tuesday, followed by the Vezina Trophy (top goaltender) on Wednesday. The Norris Trophy nominees for top defenseman will be named Thursday, with the hopefuls for the Hart Trophy (most valuable player to his team) coming next Friday. The finalists for the Jack Adams Award (top head coach) and NHL Foundation Player Award (community service) will close the roll call April 30.

The Professional Hockey Writers' Association, which has 15 members in the Buffalo chapter, votes for the Hart, Calder, Selke, Norris, Lady Byng and Masterton.

---John Vogl

Amerks fall in playoff opener as Toronto scores late for another one-goal victory

The Amerks rallied from a 3-1 deficit in their playoff opener Thursday night, but a late goal by Toronto's Jerry D'Amigo dealt Rochester a 4-3 setback in Game One. All 11 games played by the teams this season have been decided by one goal.

“You look at our lineup and we’ve got a team that can win this series if we play the right way for 60 minutes,” Amerks coach Ron Rolston told reporters in Toronto.

The Amerks opened the scoring on a goal by Phil Varone but needed third-period goals by Marcus Foligno and T.J. Brennan to catch the Marlies. D'Amigo's second of the game with 4:16 to play rendered the comeback moot.

Game Two of the best-of-five series is Saturday afternoon in Toronto. The Amerks host Game Three on Monday and, if necessary, Game Four on Wednesday.

---John Vogl


Four teams look to get to edge of second round, but no sweeps this spring

The four-game NHL schedule today has four teams eager to move to the cusp of the second round. Florida, Boston, Phoenix and St. Louis can all take 3-1 leads with victories.

The Panthers will look to continue shaking up the host Devils, who took a 3-0 lead in the first period of Game Three but suffered a 4-3 loss.

The visiting Bruins will try to take advantage of the depleted Capitals, who will be without star center Nicklas Backstrom, who was suspended for one game.

The Blackhawks and Coyotes have gone to overtime every game, and the rivalry is expected to be more intense now since Raffi Torres injured Chicago star Marian Hossa with an illegal hit. Torres has been suspended at least until his hearing with discipline czar Brendan Shanahan on Friday.

St. Louis goaltender Brian Elliott will try to give the Blues their third straight win when the teams meet in San Jose.

Philadelphia and Los Angeles had chances to end their series Wednesday night, but Pittsburgh bombed the Flyers, 10-3, while Vancouver stayed alive with a 3-1 victory over the Kings. NHL.com reports it's just the second time in the last seven postseasons there will be no first-round sweeps.

---John Vogl

Ex-Sabre Torres likely to join long list of NHL playoff suspensions

The NHL's media Website lists league-issued news releases dealing with everything from television ratings to conference call transcripts to statistical breakdowns. It's overcrowded these days with one topic: supplemental discipline.

Eight of the first nine news releases available for viewing today are about suspensions or fines. There's been plenty of foul play in the playoffs, and Brendan Shanahan has been cranking out more videos than MTV.

The NHL's discipline czar has suspended eight players for a total of 16 games. Pittsburgh's Arron Asham sustained the biggest penalty, earning a four-game sitdown for cross-checking and attempting to injure Philadelphia's Brayden Schenn. Chicago's Andrew Shaw got three games for hitting Phoenix's Mike Smith when the goaltender went behind the net to play the puck.

(The stiff penalty for Shaw was the result of general managers telling Shanahan that goalies need to be protected after he declined to discipline Boston's Milan Lucic for running over the Sabres' Ryan Miller.)

The sentences of Asham and Shaw may look light following an incident Tuesday night. Former Sabres forward Raffi Torres, who plays for Phoenix, left his feet to blast Chicago's Marian Hossa. The late hit led to Hossa being carted off on a stretcher and hospitalized.

The referees didn't see the hit, so there was no penalty on the play. Shanahan, however, has no doubt seen the illegal check delivered by a repeat offender. Discipline is coming.

Mark Spector, executive vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and Sportsnet.ca senior columnist, wrote a scathing piece that called Torres the "biggest punk in the game of hockey" and predicted an exceptionally harsh penalty.

The biggest I can think of for Torres? The NHL should make him sit until it finds an owner for his team. The way the league is moving on the Phoenix situation, Torres may never play again.

---John Vogl

Darcy Regier's offseason focus is to increase Sabres' competitiveness

In the wake of missing the playoffs for the third time in five seasons, Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier wants to focus on the positives.

"I agree we have missed the playoffs in three of the five years," Regier said in a phone interview today. "We've also made it in two of the last three. I framed it in the best way, you framed it in the worst way."

To frame it another way, the Sabres are also 0 for 1 in making the playoffs. The long offseason will be spent trying to make sure Buffalo doesn't go 0 for 2 (or four of six or seven of 11).

"We have to compete harder," Regier said. "That’s a big statement, and it covers off individual play. It covers off the coaching staff. It covers off what I have to do as a general manager to help create that.

"I can tell you that Terry [Pegula] has set the tone as an owner. It’s a focus for our organization. I think those are the types of things you’re going to see over the offseason. You’re going to see improvements when we come back in the fall. We expect to be a much more competitive hockey team."

So how do they get there? The first step, Regier said, is to increase the team's competitiveness. It was questioned throughout the season and was cemented when the players admitted to lacking mental toughness.

"It comes back to competing as an organization, as a team, as individual players," Regier said. "That really is our focus. To the extent that we came up short, those are things we have to address.

"I think that can come in a lot of ways. It can come in the individuals becoming better, mentally tougher. It can come in the growth of a younger guy to an older guy, which in large part is the same thing. It can come from other players supporting that mind-set from the outside. It can come from players in the minors that have proven that they have that and are ready to play in the National Hockey League.

"I don’t think there’s a silver bullet. I think it’s got to come from a number of different areas."

The jobs of Regier and coach Lindy Ruff were deemed safe by team President Ted Black last week despite the lack of short-term and long-term success. Regier feels fortunate to be part of the organization.

"I think that when I look at since Terry has purchased the team and the tone that he has set for this hockey club, it’s been very positive," Regier said. "To be a part of that, I certainly am grateful. I also think that his time line is shorter, focused on what things we can do now to improve the hockey club, and with the resources backing that I think that’s real positive. I do feel very good about being part of that."

Regier said he never wavered in his belief that Ruff should be part of that, too. Both joined the organization in 1997, and Regier said he did not think about firing Ruff this season as the team struggled through an extended slump.

"No, I did not," Regier said. "The improvement in how we approached the game, how we approached building the team, the growth that I have seen in the coaching staff, led by Lindy, his work ethic and how he is growing, I think he’s only going to get better."

The phone interview featured Regier's first public comments since the season ended because the team decided not to hold a wrap-up news conference for all members of the media.

"We have certain broadcast affiliations that we wanted to acknowledge," Regier said. "I think that was part of the plan, and I was fine with that."

To hear Regier's thoughts on individual players and the NHL draft, click the audio file below.

---John Vogl

Twitter.com/BuffNewsVogl

Darcy Regier

USA Hockey's top draft prospects set to play in Buffalo in September

USA Hockey has announced the creation of an All-American Prospects Game, and Buffalo will host the inaugural event Sept. 29 in First Niagara Center. Forty of the top U.S.-born, draft-eligible players will show their skills to fans and scouts as a lead-up to the 2013 NHL draft.

"What we will bring to Buffalo are 40 of the very, very top American players regardless of where they might be playing in the fall of 2012," Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, said today in the arena atrium. "These will all be players who will be eligible and who will be drafted the following June of 2013. It is a real showcase for stars of the future, some of whom may very well end up wearing Sabres uniforms."

The one-day event will lure 17- to 19-year-old players from college, junior hockey and high school. USA Hockey and NHL Central Scouting will lead the selection committee and announce the participants in late June or early July. Ticket information will be released next month.

"It’s really about an investment in a relationship that we have with USA Hockey and with hockey in general," Sabres President Ted Black said. "It’s not about selling an extra hot dog or an extra ticket. It’s about providing these types of opportunities to the city and to elite hockey players. It’s really about promoting hockey and promoting Buffalo as a hockey destination."

USA Hockey has been discussing holding an annual prospects game for a few years. The Canadian Hockey League hosts a similar event, but USA Hockey needed to figure out the logistics of bringing in players from various levels of hockey rather than just one junior league.

"We draw our players as we approach draft-eligible age from a much wider circle of leagues, so it’s a little bit more complicated to assemble," Ogrean said. "We’re doing this to showcase our best and brightest players that have come out of the U.S. hockey system and are now playing in any number of different leagues and who are going to go on and play in the National Hockey League."

Black, meanwhile, had nothing to add to the Sabres' failure to make the playoffs or the team's decision to keep General Manager Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff.

"I’d like to defer any kind of Sabres talk because I really don’t want to dilute this day for USA Hockey," Black said.

---John Vogl

Buffalo expected to host inaugural all-American prospects game

The Sabres and USA Hockey have called a news conference for Monday afternoon, and they are expected to announce Buffalo will host the inaugural all-American prospects game this fall.

During a meeting with members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association in January, USA Hockey announced it was creating an event to showcase draft-eligible American players. Executives in the organization told The News that Buffalo was on the list of possible hosts for the prospects game.

The event is expected to bring at least 40 of the best 17- and 18-year-olds in the United States to town to show their skills to NHL scouts. USA Hockey hopes the game will bring more attention to the nation’s players, which in turn would help their draft status.

---John Vogl

A quick word on pressers, courtesy of the NFL

A quick note on press conferences I stumbled upon this morning: The Sabres may not think an end-of-season gathering is a big deal -- and many fans who must not think accountability is important seem to feel likewise -- but this country's most widely-followed sport obviously disagrees.

From the NFL's official media policies:

"SEASON-ENDING NEWS CONFERENCE/OPEN LOCKER ROOM – Every team is required to 1) open its locker room for player interviews the day after the season ends and 2) hold a news conference during the week following the end of its season with its head coach, and/or owner, and/or club president, and/or general manager. The purpose is to respond to fan interest in the conclusion of the team’s season."

I added the underline. Uh-huh. Sounds like the Professional Hockey Writers Association should move to include something similar in its guidelines.

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

Amerks likely to clinch playoff berth with win in season finale tonight in Cleveland

So maybe the other half of the Sabres organization can finish eighth and sneak into the playoffs. It's a one-game season for the Rochester Amerks: Win tonight over the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena and they're almost certainly in the AHL playoffs.

Good friend of the Edge Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle outlines all the scenarios for the club heading into the season finale at this blog post. Of note is that the Amerks aren't out if they lose, but would need some help. The Amerks are currently tied for sixth in the AHL's Western Conference with Lake Erie, both at 84 points. San Antonio is at 85; Milwaukee and Charlotte are at 83 while Houston and Peoria are 82 (what a race!) 

The Amerks put themselves in position with Friday's 5-1 romp past Syracuse in Blue Cross Arena, with a crowd of more than 10,000 rooting them on in the largest gathering in the Flower City since 2007. Two goals and an assist for Marcus Foligno, two assists for Corey Tropp. Yep, those guys can play. Another note: In pregame ceremonies, Williamsville native and play-every-night goaltender David Leggio was named Amerks MVP.

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

On the Sabres Beat video chat with Gleason, Vogl and Harrington

The News' Bucky Gleason, John Vogl and Mike Harrington held a season-end video chat on the Sabres, as well as the team's decision to retain General Manager Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff. Replay the chat in the console below the video.

Click on the links below to watch clips from the live video chat:

-News Sabres Writers on the decision by Sabres' management to forgo season-end news conference

-On the possibility of a lockout

-On the play of Alexander Sulzer

On Ruff's comments about Roy's play

 

Sabres staying with Ruff, Regier

The Sabres, who have missed the playoffs three of the past five seasons and six times in 10 years, have decided to stay with their coach and general manager. Lindy Ruff and and Darcy Regier will return next season for their 16th year in the organization, team President Ted Black confirmed to The Buffalo News this afternoon.

As the Sabres cleaned out their lockers this week, Derek Roy, who has been in the organization for nine years, was among those who were critical of the way Ruff handled his players this season. The organization, though, has decided to stay with the longest-tenured coach-GM combo despite no playoff series victories since 2007.

Ruff and Regier spent Tuesday night in Rochester watching the minor-league Amerks play.

---John Vogl

Sabres' Gerbe among 17 named to U.S. world championship team; Ruff reportedly declines chance

Nathan Gerbe started the season in Finland with the Sabres. He's headed back there with Team USA.

USA Hockey named the first 17 members of its world championships team today, and Gerbe is one of 11 forwards selected. The Sabres' left winger joins notables such as Montreal's Max Pacioretty, Anaheim's Bobby Ryan and Colorado's Paul Stastny.

Meanwhile, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has turned down an offer to coach Canada's team, TSN.ca reports. Considered a front-runner for the position, Ruff told The News following Saturday's season finale he had made no commitment.

Buffalo goaltender and 2010 U.S. Olympian Ryan Miller said this week he will not play in the tournament, which begins May 4 in Helsinki. The bronze- and gold-medal games will be held May 20.

---John Vogl

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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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