BUFFALO (LGS) — You think this hockey writing business is easy?
It's almost midnight, my eyes are rotating independently of each other after a very long day, and I know there's not going to be much time in the morning to write. So as quickly as possible before my helmet flies off and I find myself nodding off in a seated position, I'm supposed to pull together a coherent recap that somehow captures the essence of the game of the season and one of the most memorable regular-season games in recent memory.
It's tough to follow a game like that, so how about I just follow the game?
The Sabres' heart-pounding 6-5 shootout win over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night at HSBC Arena saw some rapid-fire punches, a couple of controversial calls and one blindside hit.
Now it's my turn.
• Lindy Ruff said it was late and dirty. Brian Murray said it was fair. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth, probably. Chris Neil's hit on Chris Drury was late, if only a little, but I guess when you hit someone who's "vulnerable," that's dirty. Still, the entire sport is based on hitting players who are vulnerable. Just ask R.J. Umberger or Tim Connolly. Neil didn't take that many steps, and he kept his elbows down. The blow was glancing, and the damage was probably done when Drury lost his helmet and crashed to the ice.
• How did the refs see the hit? Well, no penalty was called. Then again, Lindy Ruff said Tim Peel and Don VanWinklehoven told him they didn't see it, which is hard to believe. Of course it's also hard to believe the trailing ref had to blow his whistle on at least two clear-cut penalties, or that no penalty was called when Thomas Vanek was hooked off his feet in overtime, or that moments after that, one was called when Daniel Briere tugged a few threads of a Senator jersey.
• I was instant messaging a Sabres friend of mine this afternoon, and I said if the hockey gods are going to screw us, we might as well lie back and enjoy it. I finished with a sarcastic taunt to the face-washing gentlemen in the sky: "Take Drury out. I don't care." Sorry. I didn't mean it.
• As much as I wanted to see Marty wipe that grin off Ray's face, you just knew our boy wasn't in a spot he could talk his way out of this time. Martin Biron joins Toni Lydman, Brian Campbell and Jochen Hecht on the short list of unlikely Sabres to have gotten a fighting major this season. Who's next? Daniel Briere? Nah, he just spears guys in the gravy-makers. Actually, Biron might also have just joined the short list of all-time Sabre folk heroes.
• Ruff vs. Murray was the long and tall of it, eh? Not sure if I was reading lips or actually hearing Ruff's comments being picked up by the ice-level mic, but the coach clearly screamed, "Go after Peters, don't go after our f****** captain!"
• OK, either Andrew Peters is a lousy fighter or Ray Emery is one tough pad-donning hombre. Because Petie didn't do much damage, did he?
• Patrick Kaleta made his debut to a nice ovation from the crowd, but his first attempted hit in the NHL ended up with him on the ice, not his opponent. Kaleta acquitted himself well though. How cool is it to be a lifelong Sabre fan and then get to play for them. Wow.
• Henrik Tallinder made two impressive plays in the first period, breaking up a drop pass from behind the Buffalo goal line destined for a Senator all alone in front and making a strong, snaking rush from his own zone into Ottawa territory. And with the announcement of the last minute in regulation time still echoing, Tallinder hit the junction of the right post and crossbar to come within a whisker of winning the game.
• When Ray Emery made a great save on Mike Ryan's backhand out of the corner in the opening moments of the second period, and Martin Biron answered by robbing Dany Heatley at the left post just after that, you got the feeling something special was in the offing. Like Adam Mair's left to Jason Spezza's face, the feeling was right on.
• The kids were alright. Drew Stafford jumped to Chris Drury's defense, going after Chris Neil, left a sweet blind backhand pass to Mike Ryan to earn an assist on Drury's goal, got another assist on Thomas Vanek's first goal, and scored the deciding goal in the shootout. Ryan got an assist on the Drury goal. Patrick Kaleta got a helper in his first NHL game. And Clarke MacArthur scored his first NHL goal. You almost forget Nathan Paetsch is a rookie, too.
• Should anyone be surprised that cool customer Darcy Regier likes the odd popsicle while watching the game in the press box? At least that's what I think I saw him munching on when caught by the camera. Random fact: Scotty Bowman liked to chew ice. Which can be a sign of iron deficiency, by the way.
• I'm coming Esther! On MacArthur's goal, Martin Gerber looked like one of those horrible standup goalies in the 70s, or Redd Foxx, one of those horrible standup comedians of the era, when his TV sitcom character Fred Sanford used to stagger around feigning a heart attack. I just dated myself. Not that there's anything wrong with that. (Edit: Astute reader John Monahan dropped me a line with a correction. Fred Sanford's wife's name was Elizabeth. Maybe Esther was his girlfriend.)
• My favorite moment of many came after Ryan Miller's clinching glove save. He showed Mike Fisher the puck, did a damned good impression of a Tiger Woods' birdie putt celebration and fell into the arms of Danny Briere, everyone else filling in to create a scene you usually don't see until the playoffs. Burn that image into your brain.
• Lindy said it all. "You can wrap your arms around the players and embrace them and say those guys don't quit... It's one big family." Damned right.
• If Ryan Miller could focus as intensely during regulation time as he does during shootouts, I'd feel a lot more confident in a possible Sabres-Senators matchup, or any other playoff matchup, for that matter. As it is, with Ray Emery stepping up his game, I'm not sure who gets the edge in goal if the teams meet. I know that's enough to get you stoned in Niagara Square, but I'm not sure I'm sold on Miller yet. He gets in that mode where you know he's not going to get beaten, like with Ottawa on the power play in overtime. When he stopped a Dany Heatley hat trick in its tracks — actually in the crook of his left arm and body — it was a reminder of how good he can be. But then you remember the long deflection off his body and into the net and the bad-angle shot through traffic that tied the game.
• When Dmitri Kalinin scored on his own rebound, sending the puck over a sprawling Martin Gerber to give the Sabres a 5-3 lead in the third period, his shot not only rocked the water bottle, it sent it flying to the ice. It was Kalinin's first goal since January 6, by the way. That one was brewing, though, as the defenseman has had a number of good chances in recent weeks.
• Despite missing Chris Drury for most of the game, not to mention Paul Gaustad being on the shelf, the Sabres won their share of faceoffs in the game, 53% to be exact. Danny Briere, not known for his faceoff prowess, was 12 up and 7 down, and rookie Clarke MacArthur won six of nine. Derek Roy had a nice night, too.
• Who has home ice here? Game 2 of this playoff series is Saturday night at Ottawa. I'm not sure I like this new format. In all seriousness, if that didn't feel like a playoff game, you've fallen to the ice and can't get up.
• Or lost your mind.