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Playoff Hockey Comes Early

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres

March 23, 2007
By Glenn Odebralski

It's always a playoff atmosphere when the Toronto Maple Leafs come to HSBC Arena to face off against the Buffalo Sabres. And this may have been the most electric it's been this season, as the Sabres came back from a three goal deficit to defeat the Leafs 5-4 on Friday night. With the win Buffalo improves to 48-19-7 (103 points) while Toronto falls to 35-28-10 (80 points) and hampers their attempt at making the playoffs.

The sellout crowd was already in playoff form as chants of "Let's Go Buffalo' and 'Go Leafs Go' went back and forth. And when Buffalo finished the comeback effort when Drew Stafford tipped Thomas Vanek's centering pass into the back of the net with 5:48 left to play, the place erupted.

"The crowd, I never heard it that loud out there when we got that fifth one," said Stafford. "That was a huge win for us."

This is the second three-goal comeback for the Sabres this year. Buffalo was down by an identical 4-1 score to Boston on November 2, and stormed back to take that contest by a score of 5-4. This comeback, started with Thomas Vanek's second goal of the game at 5:27 of the third period, goes to show that Buffalo is never out of the game. That's something for opposing teams to keep in mind when the second season starts.

"From the standpoint of turning things around in the game, we've known we've had the ability to come back and win some games," said head coach Lindy Ruff.

"You wonder if you got one more in you, and you stand there and think, we've come back eight or nine times from two goals or more. You stand there as a coach and you think, can we get one to get going."

"I could see it in our eyes," said Vanek about the comeback."We said let's keep coming, let's keep coming, and we sure did."

This gutsy victory helped to show two huge things. First, the Sabres are ready for the playoffs.

"It's good for us," said goaltender Ryan Miller, who despite giving up four goals, made 40 saves on the night, including 20 shots in the first period."We have to have that ability come playoff time, to not get down on ourselves, and just continue to play hockey. It's a good lesson tonight."

And second, Thomas Vanek is already to go for the playoffs. He had two goal on the night and the assist on Stafford's game-winner. He now has nine points in the last five games (3-6).

"I thought he was the one guy that stood out," said Ruff. His effort stood out. His determination showed up. I was really happy with what he showed at the time of the game when we really needed somebody to step up."We've had a lot of guys step up and for him to take his turn. That was a real good game for him. It was a real good statement he made. The 'I'm going to make a difference.'"

"He got some big goals for us," said Jason Pominville. "He's really a talented player, and once he gets going, he's hard to stop. I think he showed it tonight. It was a playoff game, a playoff atmosphere. He was ready to go, and hopefully he can keep doing that."

Buffalo got on the scoreboard just 5:17 into the game, thanks to the power play. Set up in front of the net, Vanek tipped Dmitri Kalinin's shot from the point five-hole past Andrew Raycroft for his 36th goal of the year.

Toronto tied the score with 1:05 left to play in the first period as two Sabres were sitting in the penalty box. Bryan McCabe ripped a shot from the point past Ryan Miller for his 12th of the season.

Matt Stajan gave Toronto the 2-1 lead, 4:11 into the second period. Stationed in front of the net, Stajan one-timed Alex Steen's centering pass into the back of the net for his 10th of the goal the season.

Boyd Devereaux gave Toronto a two-goal cushion just 59 seconds into the third period. The center crashed to the net and one-timed the centering pass from Matt Stajan into the open net for his fifth goal of the season, as Ryan Miller was caught out of position on the play.

Toronto's Devereaux strikes again at the 3:52 mark giving the Maple Leafs a 4-1 advantage as Buffalo's clearing attempt out of the defensive zone from behind the net bounced off referee in the corner and in front of the net to Devereaux who had a wide open net to shoot at.

Vanek answered for Buffalo on the power play for his second of the night, at 5:27 of the third period. Rushing up the right side of the ice, Vanek ripped a shot past Raycroft and into the left part of the net for his team leading 37th goal of the season.

After Brian Campbell's shot from the point hit Raycroft in the chest, it fell to Daniel Briere stationed in the left side of the net. Briere took a wack at it then snuck it past Raycroft on the second attempt for his 31st goal of the season, bringing Buffalo to 4-3 at 9:13 of the third period.

Pominville tied the score at four at 13:52, with his 32nd of the season, as he beat Raycroft above the glove hand. Briere started the play in the neutral zone where he zipped the pass to Pominville who had cut between two Toronto defensemen and had the semi-breakaway.
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