mild | MEDIUM | hot | suicidal
Lindy Ruff wanted his team to respect the Penguins and play tonight's game as if it were a playoff game. He wanted to see his team play the perfect road game, and that's exactly what the Sabres' head coach got. The Sabres stifled the Penguins all night long, including boy-star Sidney Crosby. The penalty killing was at its best, and when the Sabres needed to, they put the Penguins away to secure their first Northeast Division championship since 1997 and the first seed in the Eastern Conference.
Thomas Vanek. Vanek has a knack of being in the right spot at the right time as evidenced by his 40th goal of the season. The sophomore winger has quickly and quietly become one of the league's most dangerous offensive players. Oh yeah, he also leads the NHL with a +42.
Thomas Vanek. Vanek played great, and there was nothing frightening about his game. But the winger played just one shift after his third-period goal. Vanek was seen grimacing on the bench, which in most games is a common sight, but tonight it seemed a bit more serious. Lindy Ruff said his forward was suffering from back spasms, but he should be "OK" and shouldn't miss any time.
Ryan Miller. Jimmy Griffin, his six pack of beer, the guy selling butterlambs at the Broadway Market this week, your neighbor and just about every other Western New Yorker wanted to see Miller have a big game before the playoffs. It seemed like it was a while since Buffalo's #1 dominated an entire game. Tonight, If not for an obviously kicked-in goal by Mark Recchi, the Sabres' netminder would have had a shutout. If he plays like he did tonight, Sabres' fans shouldn't stress too much come playoff time.
Ales Kotalik. Big Al, as I like to call him, needs to be bigger on the puck. Kotalik gave up the puck a few times tonight at the blue line, but unlike Saturday night, it didn't come back to bite him in his Czech-ass. He also took two bad penalties, including a dirty check from behind on Maxime Talbot. In his defense, I highly doubt Kotalik wanted to hurt Talbot.
PPP Three Stars
1. Ryan Miller (21 saves): Third-period save on Crosby was one of his best
2. Thomas Vanek (1g, 1a): Made a great play leading to Roy's game-winning goal
3. Daniel Briere (2a): Two more points puts him within five of the century mark
The Fourth Star
Derek Roy. Roy is on his game when he's getting his opponents off of theirs. He's been a magician with the puck in recent weeks, and you can see the sheer frustration he causes opponents with his unique combination of grit and skill.
Holding onto a one-goal lead halfway through the second period, Buffalo found itself two men down with a faceoff in the Buffalo zone. Chris Drury didn't win the draw with Sidney Crosby, but he outworked his counterpart and shot the puck down the ice. Pittsburgh brought the puck back into the zone, and Drury got in the way again, sending it down the ice as the first Buffalo player escaped the penalty box.
Pittsburgh has a chance to tie the game early in the third period with Daniel Briere in the box for delay of game. However, Buffalo kills off the penalty, and the Sabres' co-captain assists on Vanek's 40th of the season less than a minute later to give the Sabres some breathing room and a two-goal lead.
On the Hot Seat: Tim Connolly
The day that some thought would never come, Tim Connolly looks to make his big return to the lineup either Thursday or Saturday if all goes well in practice tomorrow. Will it be the same?
The Burning Question
With the first seed in the East secured, and with Boston, Washington and Philadelphia remaining on the schedule, do the Sabres coast into the playoffs or do they go after the Presidents' Trophy?
Crunching the Numbers
27 - years since the Sabres last won a regular-season conference title
10 - years since the Sabres won their division
26 - shots on goal tonight
2 - Sabres who didn't record a shot on goal (Briere and Peters)
5 - the "magic" number for Briere to hit 100
5 - the "magic" number for the Sabres to win the Presidents' Trophy
40 - goals on the season for Thomas Vanek
+42 - rating that's just as impressive
"There's a lot more to be done. We don't get too carried away with that. It's nice to have home-ice advantage at the start of playoffs, but that's where it stops."
—Co-captain Daniel Briere on what it means to win the Eastern Conference's top seed.
In the Buffalo Wings
The Boston Bruins come into town Thursday night for the regular-season home finale. Then it's off to Washington and Philadelphia for a pair of afternoon affairs.