Sabres best ‘Canes in OT
Posted on April 4, 2011, 9:17 am by jackinthebuf
The Buffalo Sabres defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 in overtime on Sunday to move one point closer to clinching a playoff spot. In
one of the most important game of the season, fans of both teams were treated to a fast-paced game of nail-biting intensity, reminiscent of the 2005-06 playoff series between the two clubs. It was a showcase of speed, physicality, and most of all, superb goaltending. Buffalo’s offense came from some unlikely sources, and although it took overtime to find a winner, the Sabres are ecstatic to walk away with the bonus point.
I can’t remember the last time I had felt this combination of nervousness and excitement while looking forward to a hockey game. Maybe it was last year before the Boston series… or maybe it goes farther back, to the 2006-07 playoffs. Or maybe, just maybe, it was those last few moments before the third period of Game 7 started in the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals — the last time I really thought we had a chance to win the cup. The game has been circled on the calendars of everyone associated with either team since January; be it coaches, players, or fans. Now Buffalo can cross out the date knowing they’ve done themselves a huge favor with a win.
Two Sabres (Chris Butler and recently recalled rookie Marc-Andre Gragnani) registered their first goals of the season, but it was Jhonas Enroth who once again stole the show for Buffalo. He made 35 saves in another remarkable performance, highlighted by a string of helmet-less stops and several crucial point blank, 1-on-1 saves late in the game. It was a huge rebound game for Enroth, who played well Saturday vs the Capitals but ultimately took a lot of flak from fans who felt he let in a couple softies. There were no softies tonight.
Butler opened the scoring about halfway through the first frame when he beat Cam Ward with a wicked wrist shot from just outside the right faceoff circle. Buffalo played great team defense throughout the game and did great job back-checking to prevent odd man rushes — a problem that has plagued the team in recent weeks. However, in the second period, an Eric Staal shot deflected awkwardly in front of the net and bounced over Enroth’s head, eventually landing over the goal line inside the net. It was a whacky goal, but hardly Enroth’s fault. Later, Enroth had to make at least three HUGE one-on-one stops late in the game to keep the score even.
In a game of such critical importance, with so much riding on the outcome, and perhaps the most playoff-like atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed in the regular season, why not go to overtime? With just under three minutes into the extra period, Marc-Andre Gragnani took a pass from Nathan Gerbe and half-slapped it towards the net. The shot took a lucky bounce of it’s own and somehow wound up behind Cam Ward, giving the Sabres the win and Gragnani the first goal of his NHL career.
Enroth improved to 7-2-2 on the season with a .915 SV% and 2.53 GAA with the win. He was named the #2 star and could easily have been named #1 if not for fellow rookie Gragnani’s first career goal coming at such a crucial moment. The two points put Buffalo back into 7th place with 90 points, one ahead of the 8th place New York Rangers and three ahead of the Hurricanes. Had the ‘Canes won the game, they would trail both the Rangers and Sabres by just one point — instead, the Sabres may have finally earned themselves the separation needed to put Carolina in the rear view mirror for good.
Next up for the Sabres: Tampa Bay on Tuesday, Philly on Friday, and @ Columbus to end the season on Saturday.