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Special teams kept Sabres from their shot at a Cup

Post-Series Power Play - Sabres vs. Senators
A four-minute read on the good old hockey games...
Listen to the classic song by Stompin' Tom Connors

The Big Picture
Last year belonged to us. This year, to the Senators. For all the talk about how one-sided the respective series were, the margin of victory was razor-thin both times. Of the 10 playoff games, five went to overtime, and only one of the other five was decided by more than a goal, and that game (the opener this year in Buffalo) was 3-2 with five minutes to go in the third period. At even strength this year, the score was Ottawa 9, Buffalo 8. Forget effort as a reason the Sabres lost. It was the special teams, stupid. Fix them, and the Sabres just might win the rubber match between the teams a year from now. Or the Senators might. The teams are that close.

Entertainment Value
MILD | medium | hot | suicidal
For the second straight year, a series that many expected to be wide-open, high-scoring and wildly entertaining degenerated into closely-contested, low-scoring, fairly dull affairs. This time, there was no 7-6 shootout, although the Sabres did have another Tim Connolly Moment, courtesy of Daniel Briere. Signs of life in Games 4 and 5 made the series interesting for Sabres fans, but losing twice at home in overtime spoiled all the fun.

Goal of the Series
Early in Game 1, Mike Fisher intercepts a Dmitri Kalinin backhand pass at the Ottawa blue line and skates unmolested the rest of the way. Fisher sweeps the puck from side to side in the high slot, opening Ryan Miller's pads just enough to find up a spot for a wrist shot that gives the Senators a 1-0 lead. The Sabres never really recovered.

Hit of the Series
We could go with any number of Anton Volchenkov crunches, including a pair in quick succession on Adam Mair in Game 1 that helped set the tone for the series, or two dandies on Daniel Briere in Game 5. But Daniel Alfredsson's hit from behind on Henrik Tallinder in Game 2's overtime trumps them all. A penalty? Sure. A suspension? Nah. Like Neil on Drury, Alfredsson showed he wasn't afraid to get his hands (and the glass) dirty to try and win a hockey game. Injuring the Sabres' best defenseman in exchange for a possible Buffalo power play was a good tradeoff. Of course no penalty was called, so it worked out even better for the Sens.

Save of the Series
One of the travesties of this season is that Ryan Miller's lunging paddle save on Jason Spezza in overtime of Game 5 won't be remembered as The Save, one of the best under pressure in team history. If the Sabres somehow had gone on to win the series and the Stanley Cup, it would have never been forgotten. Daniel Alfredsson made sure it's already gone goodbye.

Scary Good
The Sabres scored nine seconds into Game 4, took a 3-0 lead and rode Ryan Miller to a win in Ottawa that gave Sabres fans three more days of hope.

Just Frightening
Daniel Alfredsson scored nine minutes into overtime in Game 5, a win that eliminated Buffalo at home in dramatic fashion for the fourth time in six playoff seasons and will give Sabres fans three more months, at least, of nightmares.

Daniel Alfredsson. The moment he aimed his stick at the rafters of HSBC Arena and unloaded so many years of playoff frustration through Ryan Miller to give the Senators a 2-0 lead in Game 1, you knew he was on the warpath. Ooh, ah, he was good, from his goal in Game 2 that cut the Sabres' lead to 2-1, to the lone goal in Game 3, to the series-winner. The assassin efficiently offed the Sabres with a goal about every three times he shot the puck.

Dmitri Kalinin. It's no exaggeration to say his turnover in Game 1 might have cost the Sabres the series. OK, maybe it is. But if that giveaway doesn't happen, it could well have been a much different series. The real problem is how, after the miscue, Kalinin folded up his tent.

PPP Three Stars

  1. Daniel Alfredsson (4-2-6, 2 GWG). Alf was out of this world.
  2. Ryan Miller (2.53 GAA, .910 save %). Sabres never could feed off the several stretches of play where he dominated the series, namely in Games 1, 3 and 5.
  3. Anton Volchenkov (26:17 average TOI, 22 blocked shots). Like Alfredsson, left his blunder against the Sabres a year ago in the dust.

The Fourth Star
Jason Spezza (2-6-8, +3). Had his hand in three of the four Ottawa power-play goals in Buffalo that were instrumental in allowing the Sens to take the first two games. Faceoff win against Chris Drury led to Joe Corvo's crushing overtime goal in Game 2.

Defining Moments
Anton Volchenkov tries to put Jochen Hecht through the glass in the Ottawa zone in the third period of Game 5. He misses and sends the glass instead onto the head of a Sabre fan in the second row. A couple of minutes later, the Sabres' power play applies what might have been the coup de grace to the season when Tim Connolly Zhitniks Chris Drury. After a party that lasted all season, in the end, nothing but headaches all around.

Turning Point
The Sabres have lit the lamp three times in the early going of Game 2, but only two of them count. Looking for an actual third goal, the Sabres press on the power play but — look away! — can't convert. Another great chance comes just after Ottawa comes back to full strength when Ray Emery kicks Daniel Briere's bad-angle shot into the slot, right onto the stick of Jason Pominville. Pominville one-times it, but Emery is quick to kick out his right pad. A little over a minute later, Daniel Alfredsson roofs one over Ryan Miller to cut the lead in half, and instead of a 3-0 lead and the virtual certainty of tying the series, the Sabres find themselves in a jackpot.

On the Hot Seat: Jaroslav Spacek
The Sabres' highest-paid defenseman didn't record a point in the playoffs and was practically a Yard Grannie ornament on the bench for the final two games. Is he the biggest free agent bust in franchise history?

The Burning Questions
If the puck doesn't hop around on Tim Connolly like a Mexican jumping bean and make a messy taco of Chris Drury's face, does Captain Clutch find a way to lead the Sabres to a goal late in regulation or early in overtime? What will it take to make the ice at HSBC Arena as slick and smooth as the team that plays on it, actually an advantage to the home team?

Crunching the Numbers

1 - Man game lost in the series to injury (Zubrus)

1 - In the entire playoffs

13 - Miller saves in the first period of Game 3

15 - Sabre shots in three periods of Game 3

9 - Miller saves on consecutive power-play chances for Ottawa in Game 4

40 - Percentage of power plays Ottawa cashed in the first two games

0 - In the last three

7 - Goals scored by the Senators' three leading goal-scorers in the regular season (Spezza, Heatley, Alfredsson)

2 - By the Sabres' three leading goal-scorers (Vanek, Drury, Pominville)

1 - Two-goal lead lost this season by the Sabres (Game 2)

1 - Amazing poke check of the puck before it crossed the Ottawa goal line by Christoph Schubert in Game 2

2 - Heroic blocks in a row by Drury on an Ottawa power play in Game 5

1 - Death-defying Miller save in overtime

0 - Bodies laid on Daniel Alfredsson

0 - What everyone will remember

6-10-1 - Ottawa's record when they played in Buffalo on November 15

15-1-1 - Buffalo's

"Maybe they got a little bit rattled."
— Lindy Ruff on the Sabres' poor start to Game 1

In the Buffalo Wings
No House Party at HSBC Arena on Monday night. No Party in the Plaza on Wednesday night. No more good old hockey games 'til the fall.

By Mark Zampogna, LGS Featured Columnist
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