Lindy Ruff can now add another accomplishment to the lengthy resume he has created while at Buffalo's helm over the past 10 seasons. For the second time during his career, Ruff has earned the right to guide the leauge's best talent come mid-season.
Boasting a conference-best 57 points entering the game, Buffalo solidified Ruff as the Eastern Conference's head coach at the 2007 NHL All-Star game with a 4-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night in HSBC Arena. Needing just a point, the win guaranteed Buffalo would finish ahead of the second-place Thrashers at the All-Star deadline later next week.
"It's great for the organization and he deserves it," said Brian Campbell. "That shows all the work that the coaches and management have done over the years. It's nice when you can get rewarded for that work with some accolades along the way."
Ruff could see as many as four Sabres players alongside him in Dallas on January 23. As of Monday, Campbell led all Eastern Conference defensemen in fan balloting, while Daniel Briere ranked third and Maxim Afinogenov sits at fourth among forwards. Ryan Miller
, who stopped 29-of-30 shots against Atlanta, leads all goaltenders.
"It's a tremendous honor to go," said Ruff. "What will make it special is that I hope we have four of our players there. That would be the great thing about it. I could play our guys and sit the rest of the league."
"It's would be nice for the guys that get the opportunity to go to the game to have a familiar face in the locker room," added Campbell.
Coaching Buffalo's last game before the New Year, the winningest coach in team history with 333 career victories has had a pretty good 2006. After leading Buffalo to within 20 minutes of the Stanley Cup Finals, Ruff was named last season's recipient of the Jack Adams Award as the league's Coach of the Year. Add the fact that his team opened the 2006-07 season with a 10-game winning streak and things probably couldn't get much better for the longest-tenured coach in the league.
"I don't know if it can be any bigger," said Ruff when asked about the past year. "It was a tremendous finish to last season and a tremendous start to this year. It's been a lot of fun for us, a lot of fun for our fans and a lot of fun for the city. Hopefully, we can start 2007 in the same fashion."
With some signature tic-tac-toe passing that has become a staple of Sabres hockey, Buffalo took the 1-0 lead at 6:44 of the first.
Carrying the puck into the offensive zone, Afinogenov slung an across-ice pass to Thomas Vanek
, who one-timed the puck back to Briere cutting down the slot.
The score keeps Briere in the midst of his latest points streak, which was extended to five games (1+7) with his 15th of the season. The Sabres co-captain has already strung together streaks of seven and 10 games earlier in the year.
"It was a well executed three-on-two," said Vanek. "Danny just drove the middle like he is supposed to, Max made a great pass to me, and I just got the puck to Dan. Nine out of ten times he's going score that."
Buffalo increased its lead to a pair with less than four minutes remaining in the second period.Jason Pominville
received a feed from Briere on a three-on-one break and fired a wristshot for his 18th of the season at 16:35 of the second. Kari Lehtonen got a piece of the shot with his glove, but not enough.
Glen Metropolit ended an 11 game goal drought to bring Atlanta within one. Reading the Sabres defense, Metropolit drifted to the front of the cage, found some space and one-timed Jim Slater pass for his seventh of the season at 2:41 of the third.
Vanek scores his 21st and 22nd goals of the season late in the third to give Buffalo a three-goal lead. The second-year professional deflected Afinogenov's pass from the right boards over Kari Lehtonen's left shoulder to make the score 3-1 at 16:53 and added an empty net goal two minutes later.
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