First trip to HSBC Arena this season.  Game Time 7pm.  The Sabres play host to the Boston Bruins.  That walk from your car to the Arena is the definition of bitter cold.  The kind of cold that so thoroughly freezes your face that once inside the Arena, your jaw takes a minute to loosen up before words can be spoken.  The Sabres are in 12th place in the Eastern Conference with a 12-14-4 record (28 pts) while the Bruins sit in 8th position with a 16-8-4 record (36 pts).  Last time these two teams met, Mark Recchi ended the game in Overtime giving Boston the 3-2 win.  Tonight’s game also ended 3-2 but I won’t spoil it for you; you’ll either have to read on or skip right to the end. 

Tim Connolly, Rob Niedermayer, and Drew Stafford return to action tonight for the Blue & Gold.  All three have been injured and are coincidentally ready tonight.  Mark Mancari and Luke Adam have been returned to Portland while Nathan Gerbe is a healthy scratch.  Craig Rivet continues to be a healthy scratch and Shaone Morrisonn is out with a concussion. 

I lowered my body into seat 7 of row 7, section 317 and immediately shed two layers of clothing.  Doug Allen sings the Canadian and American anthems and we’re ready to rock.  The crowd isn’t quite ready to rock as the Arena is noticeably quiet.  Other than a few drunkards; two of which almost came crashing into me in the restroom, the crowd is hushed and subdued.

Period One:

Zdeno Chara is getting half-heartedly booed by the HSBC crowd every time he touches the puck.  The fans boo but there’s no real malice behind it.  Chara is big & ugly and that’s all there is to it.  Before the Arena empties tonight, Chara will earn a lifetime supply of ‘boos’ from Buffalo fans.

In a 2010 playoff rematch; Ryan Miller and Tuukka Rask are the goalies tonight.

Tonight’s Lines:

1) Niedermayer-Roy-Vanek

2) Pominville-Hecht-Stafford

3) Kaleta-Connolly-Ennis

4) McCormick-Gaustad-Grier

Defense: Myers-Sekera, Montador-Leopold, Butler-Weber

Andrej Sekera witha nice diving stick check on #63 Brad Marchand.  Bruins Adam McQuaid makes a sprawling stop on Tyler Myers who had dropped down low to play some offense.  Chara with a blast; Save Miller!  My friend next to me thinks Miller looks shaky, but i’m not seeing it.  Thomas Vanek charges through Chara but loses the puck as it dribbles harmlessly to be covered by Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask.

The ice crew cleans the ice with windbreaker suits and huge wide snow shovels.  I kind of like that Buffalo doesn’t feel the need to hire models to shovel the snow (Ice Girls), but on the other hand I won’t complain if they ever go that route.  Sabretooth is doing the chicken dance.  Hi Sabretooth!

Patrick Kaleta crashes into the wall with Bruins defender Andrew Ference as the two exchange pleasantries.  Ference feels the need to cross-check Kaleta’s head into the ice and gets two minutes to go think about it.  Tyler Ennis with some fancy stickwork.  Roy is on the point for this power play and offers up a one timer pass to Jason Pominville.  Pommer shanks it and the puck is cleared.  Drew Stafford trips up a hard-charging David Krejci and the power play is over.

4 on 4 – Vanek & Myers work a give & go that gets TV a decent shot on net; save Rask.  Boston with a dangerous looking chance on net; Save Miller and the rebound is cleared. 

Drew Stafford is out on the Vanek/Roy line.  Niedermayer has been demoted to the Pominville/Hecht line.  The Bruins are working the puck around well in the offensive zone.  Dennis Seidenberg snaps a shot on net and David Krejci happens to be skating by Ryan Miller & redirects the puck into the Sabre net for a 1-0 Boston lead.  Goal comes 17:29 into the period. 

Milan Lucic takes a boarding call on Paul Gaustad and will go sit for ‘two or less’.  LESS! Derek Roy works it down low and shoots on Rask; Save! Rebound; Roy hits the cross-bar, another rebound: DRREEEWWWW STAFFORD!!!! Ties the game at 1 on the Power-Play!

Period Two:     

Where’s the POPULATION POMINVILLE sign?  The only sign I see on the HSBC wall is ‘Ennis the Menace’.  I look up to the rafters and see the flags of the teams represented in the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship.  Putting two and two together I figure they’re ‘cleaning up the place’ to look nice for the Tournament that starts in a few days. 

The 4th line starts the 2nd period but Gaustad is not on the draw.  McCormick takes the draw.  Why?  I have no idea.  That’d be a great question for Lindy Ruff.  Stafford is still on the Roy/Vanek line.  There’s been a Danny Paille sighting (he plays for the Bruins).  Paille has only gotten into 10 games this year as he is struggling to stay in the Bruins lineup.  Man, I want Mighty Taco after the game.

Ding! Chara rips a slapper off the post and wide.  Jochen Hecht takes a weak tripping call with the ref right next to him.  Power Play Boston.  Michael Ryder has all day and is stoned by Ryan Miller.  Tyler Myers proceeds to have the worst shift of the game by any Sabre player.  He misses the puck behind the net and allows the Bruins to retain posession on the PP.  Then he fails on a weak clearing attempt; and thirdly he clears the puck out of play and gives the Bruins a 49 second 5v3 while taking a delay of game penalty.  The Sabres penalty killers lead by Tim Connolly proceed to put on a heroic effort and kill it down to 5 on 4.  Jochen Hecht nealry gets a breakaway as he is freed from captivity.  David Krejci is sandwiched at the Blue line and is wincing in pain.  he’s also whining to the refs like Derek Roy usually does.  Mike Grier shows his value with solid defensive stickwork thwarting a chance in the slot.  The Sabres kill off the 5 on 3 and the 5 on 4.  The crowd appreciates the effort and wakes up to applaud their team.

Let’s Get Physical!,… PHYSICAL!! Mike Weber is getting into it with a Bruin along the boards and the crowd loves it and wants a fight.  No fight.  Shawn Thornton is after Butler and Butler does not back down.  The two are seperated by the linesman.

Kiss Cam!  Tyler Ennis with a shot; kick save Rask!  Rebound, Miss!  Vanek puts a $7 Million dollar move on Adam McQuaid and gets by the D-man and is hooked; No call!?!  Nathan Horton likes the slot as he rips a shot that Miller snags with the glove. 

Milan Lucic takes a run at Tyler Myers and misses.  Andrej Sekera almost loses the puck next to his own net but regains composure.  Cody McCormick with a thundering hit.  Patrick Kaleta with a hit on his own teammate, Tyler Ennis, while Ennis had the puck in good scoring position.  Whoops!  Tyler Myers plays offense and brings the puck to the net on a strong drive.  Patrice Bergeron hooks the 6’8″ Defenseman and will serve 2 minutes for his sin.  

Jason Pominville nice low shot; pad save Rask.  Roy with a shot from the point; save Tuukka!  The Bruins clear it down and beat the Sabres D to the puck; Miller mishandles it and must return to net as the Bruins nealry create shorthanded mayhem.  The Sabres regain posession but quickly lose it at their own blue line, resulting in a long shot that Miller saves.  Nathan Horton rips a strong wrister from the slot and Miller comes up with the save of the game.  A sprawling pad save keeps the score tied at one goal a piece.

Period Three: 

The Gaustad line is out to start the period and #28 is back in his rightful place, taking the face-off.  Paul Gaustad lines up Andrew Ference and gets a piece of the Bruins defenseman.  Zdeno Chara throws down Patrick Kaleta after the whistle and Steve Montador comes in to cause some trouble.  Somehow after all this Tim Connolly ends up in the box with a tripping penalty.  A fan yells ‘FREAK!’ at Chara.  Now that’s not very nice.  The Sabres kill off the penalty and the score remains 1-1. 

Jason Pominville drops a pass to Jochen Hecht who rips one on net; save Rask.  Pommer picks up the rebound and barely misses the net.  Tim Connolly unloads a 1-timer and Rask sprawls to make the save.  Chris Butler gives up the puck at the blue line and Shawn Thornton takes it to the length of the rink to the Buffalo net.  Butler makes up for his mistake by blocking Thornton’s shot on goal.  Mike Weber makes yet another error by tripping the same Thornton.  This mistake would cost the Sabres.  Michael Ryder walks right down the slot through the Sabres D, puts a move on Miller and slides the puck home for a 2-1 Bruins lead 6:21 into the third period.   

Ring Ring!  Who is it?… It’s the Sabres and they’re going to ANSWER!  Just 32 seconds later Derek Roy drops a beauty of a pass into the slot where Drew Stafford waits and then doesn’t hesitate to blast the puck into the Bruins net one foot off the ground, tying the game at Two!

Mark Recchi is announced as being the 9th player in NHL history to play 1,600 games.  There are 82 in a season so that’s roughly 20 full seasons.  There are a few boos, but most fans clap.  That’s a classy move, Good job Buffalo.  Mike Grier rips a shot from a bad angle and forces Rask to cover up for the face-off.  Andrej Sekera gets hit in the face with the puck as it takes a ride up the shaft of his stick and donks him in the schnozz!

The puck is in the Sabres net but something smells fishy!   Shawn Thornton completely bowled over Ryan Miller before the Bruins scored so not only is the goal disallowed, The Sabres have a power play.  Jason Pominville rips a shot on goal and the puck falls to Derek Roy who niftily touches it over to none other than #21 Drew Stafford.  Stafford slams it home with authority… YOU CAN PICK UP YOUR HATS AT GUEST SERVICES AFTER THE GAME!!!  Welcome back Mr. Stafford!!!  The hats are raining down as Drew Stafford records his third career hat trick.  3-2 Buffalo!

The 50-50 raffle winning #’s are announced.  The 50/50 makes the 18,000 seat arena feel like and old school high school event.  I mean that in a good way.  it’s just another way that Buffalo feels like a small town close knit community.  I wonder if Montreal has a 50/50 raffle?  Probably not.

Roy is taken down in front by Chara; no call.  The HSBC crowd is furious.  Chara is earning his booooos.  Boychuk with a nice legal hipcheck on Sekera seperating him from the puck.  I guess the Sabres are happy playing defense for the final four minutes here because there’s no effort I can see towards scoring a goal. 

Just when things were about to get tough, Milan Lucic gives the Sabres a gift and takes an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.  No idea what he did or said to get it, but he’s in the box for the final 1:38.  Zdeno Chara is running rampant like an escaped bull.  He runs over one Sabre before running into Tyler Myers.  Myers looks hurt but keeps skating. 

Chara is all over Ryan Miller, trying to screen the goalie as Boston mounts a desperate effort to tie the game.  Rask is on the bench as the Bruins have 5 attackers and no goalie with Lucuc in the box.  The Bruins fail to score as the horn sounds and then all hell breaks loose.  Chara bumps Miller, Miller shoves back and then everybody joins the party.  Sabres win 3-2


What I didn’t Like:

1) Tim Connolly was a non-factor.  Yes, he’s on a line with Patrick Kaleta but it just appears that #19 has lost whatever he had that made him a potential elite NHL scorer. 

2) Giveaways in their own zone.  Too many times the Sabres failed to clear and gave the Bruins unnecessary extra scoring chances.

3) Letting the Bruins get to Miller physically.  Miller was hit once during the game and once again at the end by Chara.  This is unacceptable.  What happened to the era where contact with a goalie touched off a war on the ice?  The Sabres have one of the best in net, but he won’t last forever taking that level of physical punishment.

What I liked:

1) This one’s easy; D.R.E.W. S.T.A.F.F.O.R.D. – You don’t score three goals by accident.  Stafford returned to the ice tonight and unlike Connolly and Niedermayer, his presence was felt.  Now if he can continue to produce goals maybe he’ll have a chance of staying in a Buffalo uniform beyond this season.

2) The penalty kill (Other than Tyler Myers horriffic performance in period 2).

2a) The Power Play – Still looked shaky at times but delivered when it counted.  Two PPG tonight.  That’s unheard of for the Sabres!

3) Two points against a divisional opponent that’s ahead of the Sabres.  These two points meant a lot and the W also kept Boston from gaining anything tonight. 

4)  The Sabres have a legit first line.  Stafford-Roy-Vanek looks like a dangerous combo.  Let’s keep ‘em together and leave the tinkereing to the 2nd and 3rd lines. (4th line of Grier-McC & Gaustad is A-OK as well)

5) Lindy Ruff made a strong coaching decision by taking Rob Niedermayer off the top line half way thru the first period.  The direct result was Drew Stafford scoring three goals.  After the game Ruff stated that believed Niedermayer looked ‘a step behind’ and not ready to play top line minutes.  Whether it was a lucky call or a shrewd coaching move; it turned out to be the RIGHT move.  Give credit where it is due.  Good call by Lindy Ruff tonight.

Next game is Friday 7:30pm in Miami against the Florida Panthers