by Brian Wheeler
The Buffalo Sabres looked nothing like the team that lost 5-0 at Ottawa in the third game of the season on October 8. Controlling play from the opening puck drop, Buffalo outscored the Senators in every period en route to a dominating 6-2 victory at the Corel Center on Saturday night.
"To finish the year - schedule and the way we had played them previously - with a win like this, it was really good for us," said head coach Lindy Ruff.
The victory was Buffalo's first earned during regulation against the Senators this season. Entering the game, the Sabres had defeated Ottawa twice – a 2-1 shootout win on February 2 and a 5-4 overtime thriller on April 5. In the final meeting of the eight-game season series between the two teams, Buffalo never trailed.
"Anytime you can get the lead, you can get the other team off their game," said Ruff. "However, Ottawa is a very skilled offensive team that will keep coming. For us to get the lead, it was really benefited our mindset more than anything else."
Tim Connolly led Buffalo with two goals and an assist, while Chris Drury added a goal and an assist. Connolly's only other multi-goal performance of the season came during Buffalo's 5-2 victory over Toronto on November 11.
"That game looked a lot more like the way we played earlier in the season," Ruff said. "Ryan Miller
gave us some really big saves and the big saves at key times that allowed us to go the other way and create some opportunities."
Miller broke his four-game losing streak with 32 saves and seemed to return to his previous form. For three full periods, the rookie netminder contained rebounds and even cleaned up for defensive lapses. During his post-game press conference, Ruff stated that he liked all aspects of Miller's performance.
"Adversity is only going to make you stronger if you can battle through it," Ruff said. "From his puck handling to his positioning, I really thought he had a strong game. You got the feeling he was under control."
Buffalo's defensemen lit the goal lamp twice against Ottawa after contributing just a goal in the last seven games. Jay McKee scored Buffalo's fourth goal of the game early in the second period and Dmitri Kalinin notched his second of the season less than 10 minutes later.
Only four times this season has Buffalo received two or more goals in the same game from their defensive corps. Henrik Tallinder and Brian Campbell were the last pair to score in the same game, as each netted goals during Buffalo's 5-4 loss to Boston on March 25.
"We dressed four lines and each one of them played 11 to 15 minutes," said Ruff. "We got a lot of good energy out of a couple guys that hadn't played. The line of Paul Gaustad, Thomas Vanek
and Taylor Pyatt did a really nice job for us. It took some pressure off the other lines and we just tried to take care of what we wanted to do."
Pyatt added Buffalo's third goal and his fifth of the season three minutes into the second. Maxim Afinogenov finished with two assists, giving him nine points (2+7) in the last four games.
Coupled with Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo needs just three points to clinch home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Crashing the net, Drury one-timed Mike Grier's rebound five-hole on Ottawa goaltender Ray Emery for Buffalo's first goal of the game, his 26th of the season and an early 1-0 lead at 1:17 of the first.
Left alone in front, Patrick Eaves tied the game after redirecting Daniel Alfredsson's pass from the corner over Miller's left pad for his 19th of the season at 14:19.
Off a give-and-go with Maxim Afinogenov that drew Andrej Meszaros to the slot, Tim Connolly sprawled while slipping a backhander five-hole on Emery for his 14th of the season at 15:46.
Carrying the puck over Ottawa's blueline, Pyatt used Filip Novak to screen Emery and fired into the top-right corner of the net for his fifth goal of the season and a 3-1 Buffalo lead at 3:03 of the second.
Buffalo chased Emery from Ottawa's net with the team's fourth goal in two periods. Thomas Vanek
's pass from the slot deflected off Jay McKee's left skate for a three-goal Buffalo lead and McKee's fifth of the season at 6:19.
Jason Spezza's across-ice pass was redirected over Miller's left pad by Daniel Alfredsson to make the score 4-2 at 7:13.
Buffalo regains its three-goal lead after Connolly slung an across-ice pass to Dmitri Kalinin on the left wing. Kalinin fired high for his second goal of the season at 14:50. Connolly and Afinogenov both record their second point of the game with the assists.
Connolly nets his second of the night with less than five minutes remaining in regulation with a second-chance effort. With his feed to JP Dumont resting in front after striking Meszaros' skate, Connolly sprung to the crease and slammed the loose puck into the back of the net for his 15th of the season at 15:03.
---------------------------------------------- SCORING REPORTS
| Super Stats
| Faceoff Comp
| Play By Play
| Shift Chart GAME BLOG:
1-0 (1:17): Crashing the net, Chris Drury one-timed Mike Grier's rebound five-hole on Ray Emery for Buffalo's first goal of the game and an early lead. The goal is Drury's 26th of the season. Grier gets the lone helper.
1-1 (14:19): Left alone in front, Patrick Eaves redirected Daniel Alfredsson's pass from the corner over the left pad of Ryan Miller
for his 19th of the season. Alfredsson and Jason Spezza record the assists.
2-1 (15:46): Off a give-and-go with Maxim Afinogenov that drew Andrej Meszaros to the slot, Tim Connolly sprawled while sliping a backhander five-hole on Ray Emery for his 14th of the season. Afinogenov gets the lone hepler, his 45th of the season. Period 2
3-1 (3:03): Carrying the puck over Ottawa's blueline, Taylor Pyatt used Filip Novak as a screen on Ray Emery and fired into the top-right corner of the net for his fifth goal of the season. Paul Gaustad and Thomas Vanek
record the assists.
4-1 (6:19): Buffalo chased Ray Emery from Ottawa's net after Thomas Vanek
's pass from the slot deflected off Jay McKee's left skate for a three-goal Buffalo lead. The goal is McKee's fifth of the season. Vanek gets the primary assist, while Taylor Pyatt notches the secondary.
4-2 (7:13): Jason Spezza's across-ice pass was redirected over Miller's left pad by Daniel Alfredsson to decrease Buffalo lead to two. The goal is Alfredsson's 41st of the season. Spezza and Dany Heatley get the helpers.
5-2 (14:50): Buffalo regains a three-goal lead after Tim Connolly slung an across-ice pass to Dmitri Kalinin on the left wing. Kalinin one-timed Connolly's feed for his second goal of the season. Connolly and Max Afinogenov both record their second point of the game with the assists. Period 3
6-2 (15:03): Tim Connolly's across-crease pass to JP Dumont at the right post hit the skate of Meszaros and stopped in front of the net. Connolly followed his feed and slammed the loose puck into the back of the net for his second goal of the game and 15th of the season. Drury and JP Dumont get the assists.
Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.