I wanted to take some time before sitting down to write my thoughts on today’s game, but after an hour and a half I could hold back no more.
I try to contain my bias to a certain degree when I write these blog posts as I am a true fan of the game and understand that the Sabres are nowhere near “perfect”. However, after the events that unfolded during today’s game 6, today’s post might be a bit “angrier” or more slanted than usual.
If this doesn’t sit well with you then feel free to stop reading now…however, if you are a Sabres fan or just have common sense my guess is that you’ll tend to agree with what I have to say. Let it begin…
Once again the Sabres managed to take a big first period lead and squander it. After an early goal by Father Time himself,
Rob Niedermayer, Thomas Vanek continued his hot streak on the Power Play and netted a goal to put the Blue & Gold up 2-0 half way through the first.
Then as they have typically done the Sabres began taking their foot off the pedal and allowed the momentum to swing back in favor of the Flyers.
After several head scratching plays, including a delay of game penalty on an overwhelmed Chris Webber, the Sabre killer himself Danny Briere struck with 5 minutes left in the first to cut the 2 goal lead in half. Luckily for the Sabres the Flyers took a penalty of their own and TV capitalized for his second of the game with under :30 to play in the First period. The Sabres entered the first break up 3-1 and only 40 mins away from knocking off the 2nd seed while advancing to the second round.
Not so fast…Unfortunately just like game 5 the Sabres were lacking that killer instinct to finish off the team who was down. After letting in 3 goals the Flyers yanked goaltender Michael Leighton in favor of Brian Boucher (who I felt they should’ve started in this game all along).
Only 49 seconds in to the 2nd period another thorn in the Sabres side popped a rebound from a shot off the faceoff in the net. That thorn in the side was James van Riemsdyk, who is having quite a breakout series at the expense of the Sabres (3 goals in 6 games thus far).
After that destiny seemed set as another penalty on the Sabres resulted in, stop me if you’ve heard this before, a game tying PP goal by Briere.
*I’d like to pause for only a moment to vent for the first time. After having really respected and admired Briere after all his time in Buffalo, that feeling has finally run out. After today’s game he has officially played more games with the Flyers than the Sabres and while I will never forget everything he did for this team when he was a part of it, he is just the ultimate Sabres killer and I am stating right now I cannot stand the guy. More rants to come shortly…*
What seemed like Philly’s chance to take the nail and jam it in the coffin was put on hold. With a little over 6 mins left in the period Flyer’s captain Mike Richards committed one of the most malicious and dangerous hits I’ve seen in quite some time. As both him and Sabre Tim Connolly went for the puck in the corner, Richards threw Timmy head first into the boards. What makes it worse is that Connolly has quite an extensive history with bad head injuries, concussions to be exact. Connolly immediately fell to the ice. Luckily (or so it seemed) with the help of a trainer he was able to get up and skate off the ice to go straight to the dressing room. My guess would be he didn’t know if he was in Buffalo or Timbuktu by the blank look he had on his face.
*This is where my biggest rant is about to occur, so once again if you’d like to avoid it I’ve made it simple by separating it from my analysis with the asterisk signs, so feel free to skip ahead…*
What makes this idiotic hit all the more frustrating other than the fact that it happened to a player with a history of head injuries is several factors:
1) Mike Richards is the Flyers Captain, enough said. (Since this is an analysis of the game I will further explain this point, however that really shouldn’t be needed.) He is the leader of this team, he sets the precedent for how the rest of the players, in particular the younger ones, conduct themselves on the ice. He should be the last one committing such a dangerous, reckless play.
2) This is the same moron who bitched and complained that the Sabres, and I quote, were “getting away with murder” after the Sabres won game 4. He has the gull to stand there and cry his eyes out to the media about the officiating and then go out and pull a stunt like this.
My favorite quote of the series came from Ryan Miller after the game regarding this hit:
“If Mike Richards thinks we’re getting away with murder, I don’t know what he just got away with. Mass murder?” (Hence the title of this blog post FYI).
Another great quote came from Head Coach Lindy Ruff following the game as well:
“If the league looks at it the way I saw it on video, they’ll lose a good player, too. That’ll be even, too.”
As I tweeted earlier and made my FB status: If the league doesn’t step up and take Richards out of game 7, I have no doubt one of the Sabres will take care of that for them. Whether it be Kaleta, Goose, McCormick or someone else, something will be done. Now I’m not condoning taking a dumb penalty in game 7 of the playoffs, BUT if the league does not take care of this something NEEDS to and I believe will be done about it on the ice.
Following that asinine hit, which the refs only gave Richards 2 mins for as opposed to a 5 min major (I was fuming about this at the time…are they blind???), Nathan Gerbe (Buffalo’s other little guy) sprinted in to the Flyer’s zone and ripped a shot from the point that sailed over Boucher’s shoulder (TOP SHELF WHERE MAMA HIDES THE COOKIES)…This gave Buffalo life and ended the 2nd period with the Sabres up 4-3.
Of course a one goal game in this series is hardly an advantage, but the Sabres went into the locker room after 2 periods only 20 mins away from advancing on.
As I’ve made clear by now one of the biggest problems the Sabres have run in to is finishing off games. Getting leads (big ones at that) haven’t been the issue, it’s playing smart hockey after capturing the advantage and having the killer instinct to finish off your prey. (Can you tell I’m a little angry yet???)
The Sabres decided to come out in the 3rd period and back off. Instead of pressing the shorthanded D (with Pronger out there clearly only 75% at best the Flyers dressed 7 Dmen, but only 5 saw legit ice time), the Sabres allowed the Flyers to press them and play desperate hockey.
Mid-way through the period the advantage was gone as perhaps the most hated Flyer (before this game at least *cough* Richards *cough*) Scott Hartnell lit the lamp to make it 4-4. Unfortunately for the Sabres not only did the goal even the game, but took away any remaining life they had managed to scrounge up. The Sabres barely finished out the remaining 9 mins, primarily on the back of Ryan Miller, and limped into the OT after having blown several leads.
The break didn’t seem to provide much relief as the Connolly injury left the Sabres already tired bench even more exhausted with having to play extended shifts to make-up for his absence. It wasn’t long before Ville Leino popped a loose puck in off the doorstep to extend this series and send it to a deciding game 7. Miller had no chance on the goal and at that point it just seemed like it was inevitable.
This series seemed destined to go 7 games as it has come down to the wire night in and night out. (If you go back to my Series Preview, I originally had the Sabres taking it in 7 games for a reson…) Although I do not feel like giving Briere the time of day at this moment one of his comments following the game sums up my point:
“the next game is going to be a war, just like the first six have been”
He is right about that one. Heartbroken or not, Ruff will have this team ready for game 7, you better believe it.
With Connolly done for some time (no word yet on the seriousness of his injury) the long lost Derek Roy will make his playoff debut. Roy will play for the first time since December 23rd when he tore a quad tendon in his left leg. This could certainly throw off the chemistry of this team, but with Boyes struggling at Center, this move will allow him to move to the wing where he belongs. It’ll also if nothing else provide this team with a sense of leadership and calm, which they are sorely lacking following the loss of Jason Pominville in game 5 and now Tim Connolly in game 6.
This team broke the hearts of the fans after having a chance to clinch the series at home in Buffalo. After being up 3-1 there was no reason why this thing shouldn’t have ended there. But, what’s done is done.
This team needs to win this game 7 and show that they deserve it. They need to win it for Pommers and Timmy who will be watching from the sideline and for Terry Pegula who has given everything to help this team to succeed. They need to do it for Lindy Ruff who coached in his 100th career playoff game tonight (only the 8th coach to ever accomplish that feat). But, most of all, they need to do it for themselves. After tonight’s collapse they owe it to themselves to inflict the Philly faithful with greater pain than they inflicted upon their own fans.
I do not know how this game will end up. This team has been the ultimate “jekyll and hyde”, taking big leads and blowing them in 2 different games (winning one in OT and losing the other). They’ve also won games 1-0, with stagnant offense on the back of their all-star goaltender, so what happens Tuesday night is impossible to guess.
What I do know is that Lindy will make it clear that this game must be, as Briere put it, a “war”. Body’s need to be thrown, pucks need to be fought for and Miller needs to not only be assisted with great offense and defense, but protected from all of the jerk-off’s that have renewed life over on Philly’s side.
The Sabres were 9 mins and change away from defeating the Flyers and heading to round 2, but they couldn’t finish them off. Well they have one more chance and this time they better not blow it.
In the famous words of Mortal Kombat, “FINISH HIM!”
In all seriousness, as much as this loss stings, and as you can tell it has stung me particularly hard, this series is not over yet. As Mr. Pegula put it best “Winning is not a goal, it is a belief.” If the Sabres want to take game 7 that is exactly what they should be thinking.
LETS GO BUFFALO!!!
Game 7: Tuesday, April 26 at Philadelphia, 7:30, MSG, TSN