Hockey fans – Buffalo Sabres fans in particular – if you missed tonight’s game pitting the Sabres on the road against the Boston Bruins, you missed more than just the latest offensive explosion by Sabres Superman Thomas Vanek (eighth career hat trick, second 5-point game of this young season).
You missed a game that proves why hockey is the most entertaining sport in the world to watch.
It’s hard to believe that a game that ended with the Sabres winning 7-4 was actually scoreless at the end of the first period. Actually, that’s not true. Sure, no goals were pushed across in the first twenty minutes, but the Sabres and the Bruins combined for 23 shots on goal in that period. The shots were flying early and often, but for one period the goaltenders – Ryan Miller and Tuukka Rask – ruled.
And then all hell broke loose in the second period, and I was glued to my couch. I hate to label myself a bad dad, but I’m pretty sure that nothing less than a full-blown explosion would have caused me to divert my attention from the game once the biscuits started finding net. Eleven goals in forty minutes? Four lead changes? Three ties? Not one but two Sabres comebacks? This is why fans came back to the NHL following the lockout. It’s a good thing hockey has twenty-minute intermissions, or my children would have gone to bed dirty and wicked late tonight.
In case the Sabres make the playoffs this season, you should mark tonight’s date on your calendar: 1-31-13. It could very well be the date on which the Sabres offense finally woke up. A total of ten Sabres players scored points tonight, with the seven goals spread out among five skaters. Sure, the line of Thomas Vanek – Jason Pominville – Cody Hodgson continued to make people take notice, accounting for 11 points and 5 goals tonight, but the rest of the Sabres offense made major contributions, as well. Tyler Ennis had his best game of the season so far, battling all night long and giving the Sabres a huge momentum and confidence boost when he tied the game at 3-3 at the end of the second period on an absolutely sick pass from Vanek:
That’s just nasty.
The Sabres weren’t done being clutch, though, since yet another sloppy play by Tyler Myers, and more old-man defense by Jordan Leopold, led to a Boston goal that put the home team up 4-3 early in the third period. Cue Alexander Sulzer, who erased Boston’s advantage with a nice wrister off a pass by Mikhail Grigorenko:
From there on out, it was all Buffalo . . . specifically, Vanek-Pominville-Hodgson, who closed out the game by personally outscoring Boston 3-0.
If you’re a Sabres fan, then, you’re as happy can be. You wanted offense? You got it tonight, in spades. You wanted physical play? The Sabres were throwing their bodies at the Bruins and displaying their new-found toughness all night long, highlighted by John Scott‘s dropping the gloves to fight Shawn Thornton less than three minutes into the game. You wanted to see mental toughness? You don’t get much more mentally tough than going into TD Garden and falling behind a team many people are saying could play for the Cup this year, only to come back to tie it up twice before finally pulling out a victory. Wondering how Ryan Miller would fare after his disappointing showing against Toronto? How about 38 saves and the ability to stone the Bruins time and time again in the third period? There were a lot of question marks surrounding this Sabres team prior to the drop of the puck, and for tonight at least the Sabres answered all of those questions convincingly . . .
. . . except for the question of, “What is up with the defense?” It’s a good thing the Buffalo Sabres discovered their offense tonight, because their defense did them no favors in helping Boston push four goals by Miller tonight, including three-in-a-row in the second period that threatened to bury the Sabres alive. I wish I had been writing down the number of times Buffalo gave up odd man rushes tonight, or failed to clear the puck from the front of the net. And like I said earlier, Myers and Leopold both combined, in the span of six seconds, to commit two terrible lapses in judgment that allowed David Krejci to put the Bruins back up by one early in the third period. Why Myers is trying to go one-on-one with a Boston defender is a mystery to me . . . but even more mysterious is Leopold’s decision to take a nap right on the ice, allowing Krejci to go right around him and fire one past a helpless Miller. These were not the only mistakes the defense made tonight – they’re just the most egregious, since it’s not one but two D-men making inexcusable mistakes back-to-back.
Thank you, Ryan Miller, then, for only giving up four goals. Funny, how Miller took the lion’s share of the blame after giving up four goals in a loss to Toronto on Tuesday night – as well he should have – yet tonight, he gives up four and I’m crediting him for saving the game for Buffalo. Strange how the hockey gods work. Watch the videos – pretty much every goal Miller gave up was caused by either a turnover, terrible one-on-one defense, or being screened by his own teammates so badly that he never even saw the puck. When he was given support by his teammates late in the game, he was rock-solid, so despite the stats this was a nice bounce-back game for Ryan Miller.
When everything is all said and done, though, the man you have to be thanking the most for tonight’s victory is Matt Ellis. Kidding! (Hope he’s not reading this . . . .) Of course, I was referring to Thomas Vanek. As of right now, he is one of the hottest players in the NHL, leading the league with 15 points despite missing one game due to injury. He’s playing out of his mind, and I think he’s inspiring the rest of his teammates to match his effort and determination. Be excited, Buffalo: he’s your early front-runner for the Hart Trophy, and he plays in your backyard! If the rest of his teammates can even come close to duplicating what he has been doing on the ice, all of our fretting over the Sabres’ offensive woes will quickly become a thing of the past. Great player, great game tonight, great sport! Enjoy the highlights, and come back for our game puck roundtable on Friday!