|Henrik Tallinder (photo: Getty Images) |
New Jersey's Martin Brodeur had owned the Buffalo Sabres best snipers this season in shootouts.
Coming into the contest, only one Sabres player - Ales Kotalik (1-3) - had scored in eight opportunities against the All-Star netminder. Tim Connolly (0-1), Clarke MacArthur (0-1) and Thomas Vanek
(0-3) could not figure out the puzzle.
So where do you turn when your most skilled offensive players can't find the net against one of the league's best?
Head coach Lindy Ruff dialed up something different, sending out forward Drew Stafford
and defenseman Henrik Tallinder in Buffalo's fourth shootout against the Devils this season. The gamble paid off when each scored to give the Sabres a 3-2 shootout victory over New Jersey.
"[Brodeur] is one of the best goalies ever and the reason why are his reads," said Stafford. "You've got to make sure you're not doing anything too obvious because he's too good of a goalie."
"[Assistant coach James Patrick] gave me a heads-up last night that if he was going to pick, he was going to pick me," said Tallinder. "I got the call so I'm happy."
The Sabres are happy too. Not only does the victory snap a six-game losing streak in shootouts - three of which came at the hands of the Devils - but it makes up ground in the playoff race.
The two scores were polar opposites. Stafford's attempt was a thought-out routine intended to camouflage his target. A dip of the shoulder opened just enough of a hole below Brodeur's blocker to fit the puck.
The second was pure reaction. Keeping his head up, Tallinder planned to deke as he neared the net but was rushed by a sliding poke check. The blueliner simply pulled the puck from backhand to forehand, maneuvered around the downed goalie and fired into the wide-open cage.
"[Brodeur] would have had to get some tape from way back when Hank was a forward back in Sweden," joked Ruff regarding the limited scouting video on Tallinder in shootouts. "But I don't think he had that access."
Stafford enjoys playing against the Devils more than most fans or players for that matter. When Buffalo and New Jersey tangle, it's a Fighting Sioux reunion of sorts.
The trio of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Stafford were collegiate teammate at the University of North Dakota. Their friendship has remained at the NHL level.
"It's a blast," said Stafford, whose college band had a fake rivalry with one headed by Zajac. "Obviously on the ice your still battling, but it's still kind of funny to be out there during warm-ups, look over at the other team and their there. It makes it a little more fun."
Parise and Stafford have known each other even longer, having attended prep-school superpower Shattuck - St. Mary's, along with the Penguins Sidney Crosby.
"We have a lot of inside jokes so no one can really understand what the heck we're talking about. We can pretty much get away with saying anything we want."