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Winning with a Short Bench

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
It's not often that you see a team go with an incomplete lineup in professional sports, but that's what the Sabres did against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre. Even though they played with a short bench, using 19 skaters in total, the team still came out victorious, handily beating the Leafs by a score of 6-1. The victory helps vault the Sabres to a record of 42-16-5 (89 points) on the season, and the best record in the NHL.

It wasn't another injury that left the Sabres short handed, but instead nemeses that the team had yet to face this season. The flu bug forced co-captain Daniel Briere to sit out of Tuesday night's action, while travel problems didn't allow one of Buffalo's newest acquisitions, Dainius Zubrus, to make his debut with the team.

"I thought that the guys went out and stepped up their play," said head coach Lindy Ruff of playing short handed. "We had a couple of guys playing out of position."

"I don't think there are too many teams that can pull off something like that," said goaltender Ty Conklin about playing with all of the injuries and problems that the team has dealt with. Conklin was traded for earlier in the day and served as Ryan Miller's backup. Martin Biron was traded to Philadelphia in a separate deal. "To have so many guys out and yet see that many guys step up."

The eleven forwards that dressed for the game, including five recent call-ups from Rochester, picked up the slack as they scored on 6 of their 28 shots. The Sabres chased Andrew Raycroft from net after two periods.

"We just want to go out and play our best," said forward Jochen Hecht. "We have the young guys coming in from Rochester that played a lot of minutes and they are playing really good hockey for us. They play physical, they score. They do whatever you want them to do."

"We have got hungry players," said goaltender Ryan Miller. "We have the guys that want to come up here and work really hard and I don't think they let up all night."

While the offense swarmed the Toronto net, the defense, led by Miller, played soundly in their own end. Miller actually put on a clinic for all to see as he stopped 27 of the 28 Toronto shots he faced, earning his 30th victory of the season. Telling of the netminder's night, Miller made a spectacular save in the first period as he robbed Alex Steen with a glove save as he was lying on the ice.

"I thought it took us a little bit to get our legs underneath us," said Ruff. "Ryan in the meantime made a couple of real big saves. The thing now is that it's Ryan's team. We need him more now than we probably needed him all year."

Buffalo took the lead off Jason Pominville's 26th goal of the season at 14:02 of the first period. The forward crashed to front and rebounded Clarke MacArthur's initial shot into the top of the net.

Drew Stafford gave Buffalo the 2-0 lead just 4:55 into the second period as he made a great individual effort to net his fourth of the season. The forward fought off Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle for the puck by the right face off circle, wrapped around the back of the net, and then stuffed the puck past Raycroft's save attempt.

Derek Roy's 12th of the season at 11:59 of the second allowed Buffalo to increase their lead to 3-0 on Toronto. Stationed to the left of the net, Roy beat Raycroft with a high shot after the goaltender had made the save on Dmitri Kalinin's initial shot from the point.

Toronto's Alexei Ponikarovsky finally put the home team on the scoreboard with his 17th of the season, 15:48 into the second period as he beat Ryan Miller above his right shoulder and just below the crossbar.

Hecht gave Buffalo the three goal lead again as he deflected Toni Lydman's shot from the point over Raycroft's left shoulder for his 15th of the season at the 18:28 mark of the second period.

Hecht struck once again, as he walked in from the right side of the net, and beat Jean-Sebastien Aubin on the short side with the power play tally, 5:21 into the third period.

Clarke MacArthur increased the Sabres lead to 6-1 at 13:49 of the third period, as the forward cut across the front of the net, took the puck off his skate and tapped it into the open net, past an out of place Aubin.
Quotes and audio courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.
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