By Jesse Campigotto
Oh, the slings and arrows of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
As recently as four days ago, the Buffalo Sabres appeared to be Cup final material. Now, after a series of catastrophic injuries to key defencemen, they have the look of a team just trying to survive.
On Wednesday the Sabres beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 at home to take a 2-1series lead. But it was a costly victory, as linchpin blue-liner Henrik Tallinder broke his left arm and was lost for the playoffs.
The injury may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, as the Sabres were already missing steady defencemen Teppo Numminen and Dmitri Kalinin. Indeed, Buffalo was promptly bludgeoned 4-0 by the Hurricanes in Game 4.
Tonight the Sabres limp into Carolina looking like a team down in the series rather than one tied 2-2. Good news for Buffalo though - Numminen expects to be back in the lineup.
Perhaps the healing has begun for the Sabres. If not, there could soon be a lot of broken hearts in Buffalo.
GAME OVERThanks for joining us tonight. We'll be back with more live commentary when the Stanley Cup final gets underway. If the Hurricanes wrap up the series Tuesday, Game 1 of the final goes Saturday. If they don't, the final starts Monday. Here's hoping for Edmonton and Buffalo on Monday. But that's just me.
GAME OVER A huge win by the Hurricanes to go up 3-2 in the series. And with the Sabres continuing to battle injury woes, Carolina is firmly in the proverbial driver's seat. Meanwhile, what a heartbreaker for the Sabres. More than one pundit had them written off after Game 4, but they competed gamely tonight and could have won it. Still, it looks like they're running out of gas and they now face a literal must-win at home Tuesday.
OVERTIME, 8:46Final score: Carolina 4, Buffalo 3 (OT). I think I just threw up in my mouth. With Carolina still on the power play, Cory Stillman collects a carom off the boards and beats Miller.
OVERTIME, 7:12Afinogenov just botched a 2 on 1 chance with an inexplicable move in which it looked like he couldn't decide whether to pass or shoot and ended up deking himself out and falling down. The guy is maddening. And the Sabres just got called for a penalty. I feel ill.
OVERTIME, 4:50The Sabres are dominating so far in overtime. Daniel Briere just had a good chance with a clear shot from the slot but shot it right at Ward's breadbaskset.
OVERTIME, 3:00Ward robs Jochen Hecht, who was alone in front for a tap-in chance, with his right pad. Terrific save.
OVERTIME, 1:28Carolina kills off the rest of its penalty. The Sabres at least got their power play set up this time.
THIRD INTERMISSIONThis is an exciting moment for me - it's the first time I've done a game blog that went into overtime. That means I get to make the traditional overtime winner picks. So, I'll go with... Eric Staal for the Hurricanes (Way to go out on a limb, they say). And for the Sabres... Maxim Afinogenov. Just kidding. J.P. Dumont.
THIRD PERIOD, 20:00The Sabres can't immediately capitalize on the penalty but they'll start overtime with a power play.
THIRD PERIOD, 19:20But here's what Afinogenov can do: he picks up the puck in the Carolina zone and skates hard to the net, drawing a hooking penalty.
THIRD PERIOD, 15:55Max Afinogenov gets a breakaway for Buffalo. Sounds dangerous, because he's one of the most dazzling players in the league. But here's a secret: Afinogenov looks like a goal-scorer, skates like a goal scorer, but brother, he ain't a goal-scorer. He's got one of the worst sets of hands in the league. By the way, Afinogenov made a weak "move" on Cole and fired the puck right at his right pad.
THIRD PERIOD, 14:40Just flirting, though. Buffalo kills off the penalty. Ray Whitney had a couple of good
THIRD PERIOD, 12:40Buffalo is called for another penalty, its seventh of the game to Carolina's four. The Sabres are flirting with disaster.
THIRD PERIOD, 7:40With a delayed penalty being called, Campbell drills Staal just as the whistle sounds, sparking a melee. Nothing will spark a melee faster than drilling the other team's star player. The Hurricanes aren't called for anything, so they go on a power play.
THIRD PERIOD, 6:09The period is flying by, thanks to a lengthy stretch without a whistle. Some good chances at both ends, too, but both goalies look sharp.
THIRD PERIOD, 3:30Janik gets caught on an ill-advised pinch but shows some good speed to catch up and break up a brewing 2 on 1. Still, I've never seen a pinch like that. I'm still trying to figure out what he was up to.
SECOND PERIOD, 20:00The second period ends, and not a moment too soon for Buffalo, which blew a two-goal lead in the period and was lucky to get out with the score tied 3-3.
SECOND PERIOD, 17:26The Sabres power play looks terrible tonight. Buffalo has barely been able to set up, if at all. By the way, this is a team that had the third-best power-play percentage in the league this season.
SECOND PERIOD, 11:10Say what you will about the in-game music at the various arenas throughout the playoffs (which has been somewhere between laughable and atrocious) but at least no one ever played 'Who let the dogs out?' Until now.
SECOND PERIOD, 10:04Carolina 3, Buffalo 3. Hard to blame Miller on this one. With the 'Canes on a power play, Eric Staal makes a cross-ice pass to Brind'Amour, who drills a one-timer that hits the far-side post and goes in.
SECOND PERIOD, 9:20Miller has made several excellent saves over the last few minutes. Buffalo will need him to keep it up to have a chance.
SECOND PERIOD, 8:24Colour man Greg Millen informs us the Hurricanes are down to four defencemen as a some blue-liners have gone to the dressing room. Ah, sweet justice. Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet justice.
SECOND PERIOD, 5:21Buffalo 3, Carolina 2. Mark Recchi converts a nice pass from Doug Weight for a tap-in goal.
SECOND PERIOD, 4:38You gotta love Laviolette. Starting Gerber in Game 4 was, at best, a questionable move that "paid off" because of the Sabres' utter lack of effort. Now Laviolette is making up for that knee-jerk mistake with another knee-jerk move. Don't bother counting the ballots. Give this man the Coach of the Year award now.
SECOND PERIOD, 1:55You know, the knee-jerk coaching of the Hurricanes' Peter Laviolette may save the Sabres yet. Laviolette ends the "sensational" run of Gerber almost as quickly as he started it, pulling him after the Lydman goal and reinstalling Cam Ward.
SECOND PERIOD, 1:55Buffalo 3, Carolina 1. Toni Lydman (?!?!) gets a breakway and makes like a 50-goal sniper, deking Gerber out with a terrific move.
SECOND PERIOD, 1:20The Hurricanes get a 3 on 1 and Miller makes a good save on a hard Brind'Amour slapper.
FIRST PERIOD, 20:00Forward Jason Pominville makes a nice play to thwart a chance by Williams, but Miller is called for tripping on the play and Carolina will start the second period with a power play.
FIRST PERIOD, 17:20Buffalo 2, Carolina 1. Derek Roy beats Martin "Vezina" Gerber with a wrist shot. It was a bullet, but Gerber could have had it. I'm feeling very smug right now.
FIRST PERIOD, 13:13After a furious start, the action has cooled a bit. Play-by-play man Jim Hughson gives us this bit of info: the Hurricanes have played the same lineup since Game 2 of the first round. They are to be envied.
FIRST PERIOD, 8:45Sabres defenceman Jay McKee heads to the dressing room. It looks to be just an equipment problem, but Buffalo fans don't need to be seeing any of their defenceman going to the room. Between this and the kielbasa sandwich he's probably consuming, the average Sabres fan isn't far from a massive heart attack.
FIRST PERIOD, 7:25Carolina 1, Buffalo 1. So much for morale. Justin Williams beats Ryan Miller with a softie.
FIRST PERIOD, 7:08Buffalo 1, Carolina 0. After Sabres forward Mike Grier makes a great play to break up a Carolina 2 on 1, Taylor Pyatt springs Chris Drury for a breakaway and blasts a slap shot past Gerber. For morale purposes alone, this is huge for the Sabres.
FIRST PERIOD, 5:18More blood for the 'Canes to smell: Numminen isn't in the Sabres lineup. That means we'll probably be seeing plenty of the immortal duo of Doug Janik and Jeff Jillson on defence.
FIRST PERIOD, 2:30The Hurricanes smell blood. They're attacking the Sabres' zone without mercy.
MOMENTS TO GAME TIMEOne reason to like the Hurricanes: their anthem singer is a knockout. It doesn't seem fair - she looks like that and she's still a better singer than Paul Larieau. Some gals have it all.
MOMENTS TO GAME TIMELet's get this out of the way: the Hurricanes did not win Game 4 *because* of Martin Gerber. Did he play well? Yes. Did he frustrate the emotionally fragile Sabres with some good saves early in the game? Yes. But he made only 22 saves. It's not like he stole the game. It was easy to say Gerber was the story of Game 4 because of his surprise return to the starting job. Easy, but not correct. The banged-up Sabres played horribly in Game 4 and were shut out, while the Hurricanes scored four goals. Gerber played a role, but he wasn't "the reason" the 'Canes won.
5 MINUTES TO GAME TIMETime for my standard disclaimer: I'm a Sabres fan. Like most Sabres fans right now, I have visions of Buffalo's gut-wrenching defeats of the past dancing through my head. Yeah, there's Brett Hull's "no goal" in 1999, but the four Super Bowl losses by the Bills are wrapped up in there too. As a longtime Buffalo fan, the "here we go again" syndrome has been bred into me. It's no way to live, but it's too late for me now. Young Buffalo fans - save yourselves. Get out while you can.