After nearly a week of straight practice, the Buffalo Sabres banded together as one at HSBC Arena on Friday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, shutting the visiting team out by a decisive 5-0 score.
In the 11 games Buffalo has played against Columbus to date, this is shockingly only their third win, and it was well-deserved. Power play goals, fierce fights, and a team that stuck together through the battles made this game one of the most memorable so far this season.
Buffalo’s special teams were on fire with three power-play goals. Ryan Miller earned his 18th career shutout and first of the season, making 19 saves. Rookie Tyler Ennis earned the first three-point game of his NHL career, with three additional players each having multiple-point games. One was Drew Stafford, who returned tonight after an 11-game absence due to a shoulder injury. Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek also played excellent.
Overall, Friday’s matchup might as well be considered perfection. It had everything-thanks to the five days of preparation.
“It’s the type of game you would expect after five days,” said head coach Lindy Ruff. “It might be as good a game as we’ve played in our building. Emotion-wise, from handling the puck well, the penalty killing was fabulous, the power play did a real nice job-it was the complete package.”
The Sabres started their five-goal streak tonight 5:58 into the first period with Jochen Hecht’s third goal of the season. Ennis picked the puck up at the blueline, flew down the ice full speed ahead and took the initial shot, but missed. Hecht was there to jam the rebound past Columbus goaltender Mathieu Garon. Stafford also earned his first point of the night with the additional helper.
Buffalo extended their lead by two when Jason Pominville netted one on the power-play for his first goal in the past nine games. After a scramble in front of the net, he grabbed the loose puck and slid it past Garon at 14:54.
Since being on hiatus, Pominville has been fairly quiet and he needed this goal to get his head properly back into the game-and knew it would come.
“I knew it was a matter of time. I was getting the opportunities,” he said.
Stafford scored Buffalo’s sole goal in the second stanza over midway through at 12:02 on the power-play. After a perfect backhand pass from Roy, Stafford fired it in to give Buffalo a 3-0 lead. What a great way to come back after being gone for what felt like forever.
By this point in the game, the Sabres were 2-for-3 while having the man advantage, which is a huge improvement for their special teams. Clearly the extra practice paid off, because it certainly showed.
“If our power-play gets going, everyone will find a way to score more and it will help out team in the long run,” Pominville said.
The final period was filled with three fights and two Buffalo goals, making the last 20 minutes the most exciting of the night. Cody McCormick, Steve Montador, and Patrick Kaleta each dropped the gloves against a Blue Jackets player, earning 17 total penalty minutes each in the third period alone. McCormick got the tensions flaring, as he went after Mike Commodore for sending Kaleta to the boards. McCormick has always been about protecting his teammates,and tonight was no exception.
“What Cody did got the guys going, he’s done it all year and all the guys appreciate it,” said Ennis. On the other squabbles: “They tried to step up on us, and the guys battled through it. It was a good boost for us.”
“Guys stick up for each other and it’s fun to see. It’s exciting on the bench. That’s what you want to see,” added Pominville on the excitement of the third period.
When Stafford was illegally hit in the head by Jared Boll, Montador took it upon himself to take care of business-and he did (Stafford left the ice to be checked out, but was able to return). But of course, no Sabres game would be complete without Kaleta getting his hands dirty. After unning out of steam after being a Columbus target throughout the game, Kaleta and his “golden hands” pounded Blue Jacket Derek Dorsett to the ice-and Kaleta wasn’t ashamed either.
With just under five minutes remaining, Ennis gained his second point of the night after Shaone Morrisonn beautifully dished him the puck and he delivered it glove-side past Garon.
But Buffalo wasn’t done, and neither was Ennis. In a five-on-three power play, Ennis sent the puck to Vanek, and Vanek then netted it in an almost identical fashion to Ennis’ previous goal for his 10th of the season. Vanek’s goal secured Buffalo’s first win against Columbus since 2004.
With the two points, the Sabres now have 23 points. Coincidentally, they play the Senators tomorrow night, who also have 23 points. Who will break the tie? Buffalo can, if they play exactly how they played tonight and then some.