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Sabres beat Sharks on emotional night in Buffalo

by John Kreiser /
The Buffalo Sabres declined the NHL's offer to postpone Friday's game against San Jose, one day after a plane crash in a suburban town where many of the players live killed 50 people. Then they went out and gave the community something to take their minds off the tragedy, at least for a little while.

Buffalo blew 3-0 and 4-1 leads against the Western Conference-leading Sharks, but forced overtime on Jason Pominville's goal with four seconds left and got goals from Pominville and Derek Roy in the shootout for an emotional 6-5 victory at HSBC Arena.

"When something like this happens, it's not about the game," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "We'll play it, but we'll leave our thoughts somewhere else. I thought we did a good job of playing it but still being considerate of what went on."

It looked like the Sharks were going to get their biggest comeback win of the season when Joe Pavelski whipped a shot past Ryan Miller at 10:14 of the third period to put San Jose ahead for the first time. But the Sabres pulled Miller in the final minute and got even when ex-Shark Craig Rivet fired a slap shot from the right point that was tipped by Pominville and went past Evgeni Nabokov.

"It's been a real tough day for Buffalo. I'm real proud of our guys. The whole game seemed to be an emotional roller-coaster," said Rivet, the Sabres' caption, who finished with three assists against the team that traded him away last summer. "We didn't let up. We pushed right to the end."

After a scoreless overtime and three scoreless rounds of the shootout, Pominville and Patrick Marleau both scored in the fourth round. But Roy's backhander past Nabokov and Miller's save on Milan Michalek's shot gave the Sabres the win -- one that Ruff said took a back seat to what was going on outside the arena.

"It was a happy ending," he said. "We needed a fairy-tale ending. It was a positive feeling. We needed it, and I think our fans are going to need it. Before long, every fan in the stands is going to be touched by someone -- a friend, brother, sister, father, mother. Already, most of us know somebody here who's been touched by somebody involved.

"However small this event was, it turned out to be a positive event. Our prayers and thoughts are with our community."

As important as the two points were for the Sabres -- they stayed tied with Florida for the last two playoffs spots in the East -- Pominville said the game was more about giving something back.

"I think tonight's game was more about the community, and for us to be able to give back to them," he said after scoring for the first time in 18 games. "It's a tough time right now. A lot of guys live right by there, and everyone's affected by this. To stick with it and get a win was huge for our team and our city."

The Sabres started as if they would blow the Sharks back to San Jose. Adam Mair, Jaroslav Spacek and Roy scored to give Buffalo a 3-0 lead 14:21 into the game. Marleau's power-play goal at 18:17 put the Sharks on the board, but Ales Kotalik scored with the man advantage 8:27 into the second period to restore Buffalo's three-goal lead.

However, the Sharks haven't been near the top of the overall standings all season for nothing. Joe Thornton, who set up Marleau's first-period goal, found him again for a second one at 9:29, then fed Dan Boyle at 19:08 to cut the lead to 4-3.

Thornton got his fourth assist when he helped set up Devin Setoguchi for a power-play blast from the left circle 6:09 into the third period to tie the score. Pavelski then outworked three Sabres before picking the top corner on the short side to put the Sharks ahead.


"The slow start kind of hurt us," Thornton said. "Once this team turns it on, it's pretty hard to stop. But we have to do it for 60 minutes."

The Sharks couldn't help but be affected by the news of the crash that dominated local headlines and television broadcasts throughout the day.

"The community is in mourning right now," coach Todd McLellan said. "It was an entertaining game. Anybody who came here probably got their mind off very serious issues."
For a few hours, at least.

"We ended up getting a huge victory, not only for our club but for all of Buffalo and the people who are going to be going through some very tough times in the next little while," Rivet said. "If it can ease some of the pain that's going to happen, I hope it helps."

Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report

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