Ladies and gentlemen, you’re not going to believe this:
The Buffalo Sabres have won a game! Off the stick of Tyler Myers, no less!
No, I’m not lying! I know how it must sound – two amazing statements, one on top of another – but if I’m lying, I’m dying.
Of course, for those of us watching tonight’s road contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning, things could not have started much worse: only 1:24 into the game, Steven Stamkos found himself entirely untouched in the slot and flipped a rebound past Ryan Miller for the first score of the game. I had just got my son settled in front of the TV when Stamkos found the back of the net, and the two of of us were stunned. “Not again,” I thought. “Why is Buffalo so terrible?” my son asked. For a team that was on the road, trying to snap a four-game losing streak, it was the most inauspicious start imaginable.
Fortunately, tonight’s version of the Buffalo Sabres did not resemble the team that had been on display for the past few games. For starters, the Sabres regained the ability to take one on the chin without folding like a deck of cards. I bet it could have been very easy for a team that was looking for answers to cave in after allowing yet another early goal, but the Sabres did not show any signs of getting down on themselves. Their forechecking was very aggressive tonight, the sign of a team that really wanted to get off scheind, and it resulted in Buffalo’s being able to tie it at the 10:02 mark, when Cody Hodgson got a little help from above as his attempt to center the puck from behind the net was deflected past Mathieu Garon by a Tampa Bay defenseman:
That entire play was made possible by the hustle of Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and Andrej Sekera, whose pressure in Tampa Bay’s zone created the turnover that ultimately made Hodgson’s goal possible. That gritty, never-say-die attitude has not been present in a full game of Sabres hockey lately, but tonight in Tampa Bay it was there for every fan of the blue and gold to see.
The second period has been the nemesis of the Sabres this year, as they were a -15 in the second period heading into tonight’s game. It’s fair to say that every Sabres fan holds his or her breath during the second frame, because we all know this is when, more often than not, the Buffalo Sabres tend to let a game they are in slip entirely from their grasp. I know I spent every second of the period waiting for the other shoe to drop, and the fact that Buffalo committed three penalties (to Tampa Bay’s none) in this period didn’t help my anxiety dissipate at all. Still, when the dust had settled, the Sabres had only been outshot 14-10 in the second frame, and their penalty kill and Ryan Miller had come up huge, blanking the Lightning at every turn. Those little moral victories are the sort of things the Sabres need to build upon, in order to tell themselves that they can right the ship and be competitive this season.
Even though the Sabres had played pretty solid hockey for 40 minutes, I still wasn’t feeling too good about their chances of leaving Tampa Bay with a victory. Sure, I was proud of how they had played so far – but my momma didn’t raise no fool. Recent history had prepared me to expect the worst . . . and then the closest thing to a hockey miracle occurred, and I knew we were going to be okay:
Now, there’s really two minor miracles on display in that video. The first is the fact that it was the Sabres – yes, those same Sabres who have become notorious for surrendering the puck in their end of the ice – pressuring the puck and getting a takeaway that led to a great scoring opportunity. It’s been the opposite story for the Sabres all season thus far, so it was nice to see them turn the tables on their opponents. The second miracle was that Tyler Myers, he of the two healthy scratches this season so far, looked like a stone cold assassin when he ripped that shot past Garon. As a whole, Myers didn’t have a terrible game. Granted, he made one of the absolute worst passes I have ever seen in my life during the second period, but rather than hang his head he hustled back on defense and got the puck right back with some nifty poke checking. All in all, I applaud Myers’ effort tonight, and hope this is the beginning of a good stretch of games from him.
Speaking of a good stretch of games – it’s about damn time that Ryan Miller skated off the ice with a win to his name. The man has been the best player for Buffalo for the past two weeks, easily, but he has almost nothing to show for it. Tonight, the defense in front of him was not perfect – I mean, how can you leave Steven Stamkos totally untouched in front of the net more than once?!? – but it was a far, far, far better all-around effort than we have seen since the Sabres nearly beat the Penguins on Fenruary 17. As usual, Miller was spectacular tonight, and I would say he’s earned a game off . . . except he apparently is the only goalie the Sabres have any more. Guess that means we’ll see him in net again this Thursday against the Florida Panthers!
Congratulations to Ron Rolston for his first victory as an NHL coach, and kudos to the boys from Buffalo on snapping their losing streak! Hopefully, they watch tonight’s game tape, see how their hard work paid off with a win and use that as the game plan for future contests.