by Andrew Kulyk & Peter Farrell
Within hours of the puck dropping for Game One at HSBC Arena, the video that everyone is talking about was all over the internet. “Better Days,” the upbeat, two-minute montage produced in-house by Sabres broadcast producer Matt Gould, gave everyone around Western New York a spring in their step, raising Stanley Cup fever yet another couple degrees.
Two of our more noted local bloggers said it best. Buffalo Pundit’s Alan Bedenko, not exactly a guy noted for wearing sports jerseys and painting his face in team colors, commented, “…this video sort of makes you sit back and think, what a great city Buffalo is.” Christopher Smith, a/k/a Buffalo Geek, asked, “Does this video epitomize where the collective heart of the city is at this point in time, or what?” Kevin Pritchard also posted the clip on his sports-themed Bfloblog, generating substantial feedback.
But while Buffalo and Western New York is on the verge of exploding with excitement as the playoffs are underway, the team has quickly brought us down to earth. Most local prognosticators as well as national media outlets across the United States and Canada had expected the Sabres to roll over the less talented New York Islanders, but after three games such is not the case.
Game one had Sabres fans up on their feet early, as Buffalo sent wave after wave of attackers while playing a perfect defensive game, allowing the Islanders just one shot on goal in the first period. Meantime, Wade Dubielewicz, the Islanders goaltender, was doing his best to keep his team in the game. Buffalo finally blew it open in the third, with goals by Chris Drury and Brian Campbell. “It was a very good outing for us,” said Ryan Miller afterwards.
Dainius Zubrus stepped us his game in a big way, scoring three assists and making his presence known all over the ice.
When the postgame press conferences were over, the Islanders PR director dropped the bombshell with this announcement: Star goaltender Rick DiPietro had been cleared to play by his doctors and would be practicing with the team the next day.
Game two turned out to be a huge disappointment for Buffalo fans who were expecting their team to throw down the hammer. “We weren’t moving our feet,” said a clearly disappointed Lindy Ruff, referring to the lethargic play of the opening 18 minutes.
Incredibly, the Sabres did claw out of a 2-0 hole to tie the game at two early in the third, when Dimitri Kalinin charged the net to jam the puck into the net. But then Max Afinogenov took a devastating hooking call midway through the period, a penalty which looked like a noncall and drew the ire of the fans, raising a loud chant of “Ref, you suck!” The Islanders capitalized with what turned out to be the game-winner. Final score: 3-2, New York.
Afinogenov was visibly upset when the call was made, but afterwards admitted it was his fault. “I made a bad choice, and it cost our team. Yes, I did commit the penalty,” said Max.
Ruff would also hear nothing of any sour grapes about the call. “The rule is you don’t put your stick in that spot in the midsection. I don’t care if Miro [Satan] grabbed it or not.”
Onto the Island for game three, and after a scoreless first period, Buffalo opened it up in the second with three goals by Mair, Vanek and Briere, but allowed a cheapie late to make it close. Undaunted, the Sabres kept their aggressive play into the third, winning 3-2 and taking the series lead.
Ruff stressed that coming out strong in the third after that late Islanders goal was huge. “The first five minutes of the third period was very important. Sometime that hurts you and it takes time to recover, but we came back focused and ready to play again.”
The Sabres play at home this Friday in Game Five of the series, with the puck set to drop at 7:05pm. If the series goes to (gulp) seven games, the Sabres will host the deciding game next Tuesday.
■ A year ago this week, former Flyers Coach Ken Hitchcock delivered his infamous f-bomb towards Lindy Ruff in the media room at HSBC Arena. Still waiting for Ted Nolan’s first tirade.
■ Now appearing on TSN, none other than Marty Biron as intermission studio analyst during their hockey telecasts. Marty is as dapper and chatty and ever, and comes across as if he’s been in the broadcast chair for years.
■ Useless stat of the week: Since the NHL went to best-of-seven in the first round during the mid 1980s, the Sabres have gone 41-41 in such games (after first three games of Isles series).
■ When Mike Sillinger stepped onto the ice in game one, he set an NHL record by appearing in the postseason for eight different clubs. Just 22 left to go, Mike!
■ Does anyone really buy the Islanders’ explanation about the listed lineups on the markerboard in their dressing room? Connolly injured? MacArthur fourth line?
■ After Isles fans showered the ice with debris late in game three, Lindy offered a little jab: “Our fans were also pretty upset, but they didn’t throw stuff the other night,” said Ruff.
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