What should have been an interesting contest tonight turned into a boring chess match between a team battling major injury bugs and a team that was looking to win the second game of a back to back for the first time this season. The Buffalo Sabres skated into tonight desperately needing two points on home ice. The Florida Panthers were looking for first place in the Eastern Conference. The entire game turned out to be uninspired and boring hockey. Thank hockey heaven for coffee, because it honestly kept me going in the game. The only people who got excited tonight were the ones that were following Twitter watching the comments on how boring the game was.
The most emotion seen in the first few minutes of the game came from Panthers coach Kevin Dineen over the refs call of two many men on the ice. Kudos to the Sabres to keep the play along the benches to force the penalty, but a sloppy exchange by the Panthers sealed the deal. Fans were the next ones to show emotion as Sabres rookie Brayden McNabb was sent off two minutes for interference. That was one of the worst interference calls I have seen in a while. McNabb was making a play for the puck, dove, and slid into Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen. Much like the penalty that Enroth drew in the Montreal game by leaning into the oncoming player, Clemmensen didn’t do too much to get out of the way of the pretty much prone and unable to avoid contact Sabre.
Florida continued to give chances to the Sabres by parading to the penalty box. Buffalo’s own Tim Kennedy did time in the box for high sticking after Evgeni Dadonov served time for hooking.
Unable to capitalize on the powerplays, the Sabres gave the Panthers chances as well, as turnovers remained the norm. Ryan Miller made a couple of nice saves and the Sabres defense recovered on a couple of occasions. Seems that most of the Panthers chances were coming after Sabres miscues. The Sabres were trying to not make mistakes, which has been their largest downfall at home thus far this season.
Regardless of miscues by the Blue and Gold the team was able to get to the locker room ahead 1-0, a bounce near the net for Florida late almost tied the game, but Miller was able to get the puck out of harms’ way.
It seems as though a game can’t go by without the Sabres adding someone to the injured list. Corey Tropp did not return after taking a big hit by Dmitry Kulikov. Are we now down to calling to Rochester to replace our rookies with prospects? Lindy Ruff would confirm that Tropp was out with a head injury, with no time table for his return. I wouldn’t anticipate seeing Kulikov suspended for the play, while Kulikov made contact with the head of Tropp, it was similar to the Myers hit that he wasn’t suspended for. Jochen Hecht would have to receive care as well as he blocked a shot and is probably going to be sidelined for a period of time.
The second period was a mirror of the first, except it was the Florida Panthers who were able to get on the board, tying the game. They were able to do that off two penalties within ten second of each other. With Erhoff in the box for roughing, Hecht went off for holding. Lindy wouldn’t get into the specifics on the penalty in the post game, but did say it was a tough call to take, and there is not much you can do about it. Ten second into the five on three the puck was in the net, and the Panthers had another almost full power play to go.
It took the crowd several minutes to get back into the game after the goal. The first Sabres clear after the goal was met with limited reaction from the crowd, but by the second clearing attempt the crowd seemed back into the game, but you could still sense apprehension from the crowd, the low entertainment value of the game draining the life out of the fans for much of the game.
Once the Panthers tied the game, it seemed that both teams were reluctant to do anything. Buffalo seemed scared to open things up, not wanting to give any room for the Panthers to take over first place in the conference, and the Panthers were content holding on for the Sabres miscue that would give them the win.
Then the Buffalo Sabres stopped shooting on net. Credit the Panthers for getting in the shooting lanes and taking things away from the Sabres. But in 36 minutes of play the team was able to muster three shots on goal – it was almost as if no one in blue and gold wanted the puck tonight, and when they had it they didn’t know what to do with it.
The tone of the game was felt in the stands as well. The loudest the crowd got in the second period was when a young fan was on the scoreboard doing the sprinkler to the music during the television timeout. With the Sabres on the power play in the third period the crowd came to life with a spirited chant of “Let’s go Buffalo” to try and get something going.
The Panthers were trying to hold on for at least the point, and the Sabres the same, neither team wanting to open the game up for fear of giving the other the chance to win. Overtime was almost a comedic tragedy at this point. After watching 60 minutes of some of the worst hockey, that contained about three plays of north and south hockey, we were destined for extra time.
It was in extra time that the Buffalo Sabres were able to capitalize on the mistakes of the Florida Panthers. Jason Pominville was able to get behind the Panthers, something you cannot allow – and just under halfway through the overtime period, the game was over. Not only could you sense the sigh of relief as the team rushed the ice to praise their captain, but the crowd swelled and stood on their feet, a standing ovation for a team that struggles to put games in the win column.
If tonight’s game made you just run to your calender in anticipation of the next time these two teams play; consider one of the final comments on the post-game show of WGR550, if the playoffs were to start today, the Sabres and Panthers would be locked into a stalemate of a seven game series as the second and seventh seeded teams.