So far, the Buffalo Sabres storyline for the 2013 NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, goes a little something like this:
Two up, two down, two-and-oh.
Before we celebrate too much, it must be pointed out that this game was a bit of a back-and-forth affair for the young Sabres. After a scoreless first period, the New York Rangers‘ Oscar Lindberg scored early in the second period while on the power play to grab the 1-0 lead. The Sabres responded quickly and ferociously, however, scoring the next three goals on efforts from Nicholas Baptiste, Nikita Zadorov, and Logan Nelson to sprint out to a 3-1 lead after two periods.
That’s right about when a baseball game broke out on the ice.
The third period saw six pucks find twine, in this order: Lindberg (NY); Baptiste and Eric Locke (BUF) – 22 seconds apart; then three in a row by the Rangers, including one more by Lindberg to complete the hat trick, to tie the game at 5-5 and send the shootout into overtime.
Rats. Allowing four goals in the final frame, including three unanswered, qualifies as nothing less than a complete and utter meltdown in all phases of the game – not exactly the confidence-builder a young group of prospects needs the week before training camp starts. Luckily, Nikita Zadorov scored his second of the night with just over 21 seconds remaining in the first overtime to give the Sabres the 6-5 victory. Ugly game notwithstanding, the victory makes the Sabres 2-0 in the tournament and puts them in first place for the tournament, as they are currently the only undefeated team in the Ted Lindsay division following Carolina’s loss to Columbus earlier in the afternoon. The Sabres will play Carolina on Sunday, with a victory guaranteeing that they will be playing in the championship game on Monday, September 9th.
It’s good to see a number of Sabres tickle the twine today, including Baptiste (who now has three goals for the tournament) and Zadorov, and I’m glad that the team proved resilient enough to shrug off a disappointing third period to eke out the victory in OT. Rebounding from a late-game collapse is a sign of mental toughness, a characteristic that these kids are going to need if they intend to survive the ups and downs of the NHL. With a squad this young, you have to expect extreme highs (such as their three-goal blitz in the second period) and lows (surrendering three unanswered in the third), so I’m not surprised to see it happen today. I am disappointed in goaltender Andrey Makarov’s showing, though. A day after Nathan Lieuwen appeared relaxed and in control, Makarov lets in five. Ugh. For a team that is going to need to replace Ryan Miller soon (due to either trade or free agency), the Sabres need to feel a little bit better about the future of their netminders than they must feel tonight.
But hey – it’s a prospect tournament! Warts and all, the young guys are gaining valuable playing time and experience with every game they play and every challenge they face. The Buffalo Sabres effort may only get a B-/C+ from me tonight, but the boys in blue and gold still have a legitimate shot to repeat as Traverse City champions. Everyone now: let’s go Buffalo!