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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres
The day after opening the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 1-0 road win over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Buffalo Sabres practiced in Voorhees, New Jersey on Friday to prepare for Game 2.

While Ryan Miller pitched his second career playoff shutout and Patrick Kaleta scored the game’s only goal for his first postseason game-winner, there were other players who played crucial roles in the victory.

A trio of young defensemen logged ice times well above their regular season averages as Chris Butler, Mike Weber and Marc-Andre Gragnani all played critical minutes while receiving extra shifts on the ice. Each player was also making his Stanley Cup Playoff debut.

Following the game, Head Coach Lindy Ruff referred to those three defensemen, in no particular order, as “good, great and excellent” in Game 1.

Butler led all skaters in the game with 26:04 of ice time, nearly eight minutes more than he averaged during the regular season.  Weber (20:34 in Game 1) logged nearly four minutes above his average and Gragnani, who skated 19:28 on Thursday, was more than four minutes above his NHL season average and registered the primary assist on Kaleta’s goal.

Chris Butler
On Friday, Ruff explained his decision to use Butler, Weber, Gragnani and Tyler Myers (22:20 of ice time) down the stretch as the Sabres hung on to a 1-0 lead.

“It just got to the point where we went with the four guys we thought were going the best,” he said.

Butler has emerged in recent weeks as a reliable partner to Myers, last year’s Calder Trophy winner.

“I was real happy with the way we played together last night,” said Myers.  “We have to communicate with each other as much as we can on the ice, and because we’ve been doing that, we’re making it easier on us… (Chris) moves the puck really well and it’s always easy to play with somebody who moves the puck quick and keeps the game simple.”

Following last night’s game, Butler credited assistant coach James Patrick and player development coach Kevyn Adams for helping him through a stretch where he played just once in an 18-game span from Dec. 21 to Feb. 5.

“It was a tough time there for me for about a month when I didn’t see any ice time. I give a lot of credit to James Patrick and Kevyn Adams who were real helpful to me… I tried to just work on a lot of little things during that time and it would have been easy to kind of go through the motions but they were very helpful in keeping me in game shape and keeping me ready to take advantage of an opportunity,” Butler said.

As for Gragnani, Ruff said the AHL Defenseman of the Year did not look like a player making his NHL playoff debut.

“Marc played well.  There was no indication in the game that in his first Stanley Cup (playoff) game he was nervous.  He just made great plays.  He broke up a couple plays, his outlet plays were good, he skated himself out of some situations.  He just played really well.”

In other blue line news, defenseman Shaone Morrisonn did not practice on Friday.  Ruff said Morrisonn, who did not play in the final 15 minutes of Game 1, “wasn’t available for practice today.”  In addition, Jordan Leopold practiced with the team in a non-contact role as he continues to recover from a hand injury.

Ryan Miller has appeared in 41 career playoff games against six different teams and has found the most success against the Flyers.

In seven postseason outings against Philadelphia, Miller is 5-2 with a 1.75 goals against average, a .933 save percentage and a pair of shutouts.  For his career, Miller is 23-18 in the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 2.33 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

The Sabres blocked 16 shots in Game 1, compared to just four blocks by the Flyers.  After the game, Kaleta said Buffalo displayed its team toughness by its willingness to get in front of shots.

“You can go down the line and see guys giving up their bodies to block shots and I think that’s the definition of toughness right there.”
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