March 9, 2007
By Brian Wheeler
A 22-year-old rookie netminder almost did something that no other team in the league has been able to do this season.
Buffalo came within four minutes of suffering their first shutout loss in 2006-07. But Buffalo was bailed out by Mike Ryan, who scored at 16:01 to give the Sabres a reprieve in their 5-1 defeat to the Minnesota Wild on Friday night.
Wild neminder Josh Harding looked more like the man Buffalo will face Saturday night, New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, than a first-year goalie who has appeared in just over half a dozen NHL games. Harding turned away 35 shots to record his second victory this season. Buffalo has now dropped their last two.
"It seemed like every shot, [Harding] would make the save look easy," said Derek Roy. "It's a tough night when the goalie is hot on the other side."
Buffalo's frustration over its lack of offense was palpable. Time and again, the Sabres would break through Minnesota's guard only to be thwarted by a bad bounce or a sloppy pass.
The team's difficulty was never more evident than in the first period, when they out shot Minnesota 13-6 but ended the period trailing 2-0.
"It's double frustrating at certain points when they've got a goalie coming in and making some big saves, then you finally get by the trap and the goalie bails them out," said Roy. "We had our chances tonight, we just didn't bare down on them."
The team has been limited to a single score only five times this season, the last coming on Dec. 16 against Ottawa.
"For the first 40 minutes, we had a lot of the energy and garnered most of the play," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "We didn't have a lot of high quality opportunities but we had some really good ones in the second period that we missed."
Rookie Clarke MacArthur and co-captain Daniel Briere were each stuffed by Harding from pointblank range when they could have cut Buffalo's deficit in half, while Jochen Hecht hit the left post on the Sabres first power-play opportunity.
"At times, we stood around and made plays we shouldn't have made," said Ruff. "There were a few plays that instead of moving our feet, we put pucks in areas we shouldn't have put them. We should have moved our feet first and then went after them."
Dominic Moore gave Minnesota a 2-0 lead in the first period with his first two goals in a Wild sweater.
Moore's first of the night at 4:55 came from a slapshot that deflected over Ryan Miller's right shoulder off Teppo Numminen's stick, while his second came via an across-ice feed from Martin Skoula at 14:19. Miller allowed four goals off 22 shots.
"They were tenacious," said Ruff. "Every team traps. Some are better than others. They're good because they skate hard at it."
Pavol Demitra used his head, and Miller's for that matter, to make the score 3-0. Demitra offering deflected off Toni Lydman's stick and then the back of the netminder's dome at 3:31 of the third period.
With his third goal of the season, Keith Carney expanded the Wild lead and prompted Ruff to make a netminder switch at 7:32 of the final frame. Carney spun at the blueline and fired a slapshot that found its way through traffic and into the top-left corner of the net to make the score 4-0.
Ty Conklin received a spirited ovation from the capacity crowd as he skated towards Buffalo's crease and then another cheer each time he made a save, eight total.
Todd White completed the scoring at 19:14 of the third.
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