Saturday, November 14, 2015

One Buffalo, Two wins

Reprinted with permission from

The Sabres PR department alerted us to that little stat about the Buffalo Bills and Sabres. They also mentioned that Sabres are 113-64-33 when playing on the same day while the Bills are 89-119-2. Pretty easy to see who's not pulling their weight in that department.

For those who are not football fans, I'll make this part pretty brief.

Head coach Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills pulled out a 22-17 victory last night at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey against the NY Jets, the team that fired him after six seasons. Ryan likes to have fun with the media leading up to the game and oft-times there's a circus-like quality to his pressers. His return to NY/NJ was no different, save for the fact that it was during short week. The Ryan pre-game circus got going on Tuesday when he donned a Clemson helmet  (a prop that helped diffuse a Monday tweet by his former player, Calvin Pryor, a Louisville alum) and ended with him walking into Met Life Stadium flanked by two men, one of them in a Kansas City Royals cap (The royals defeated the NY Mets in the World Series.)

He'd said all along that it was about the game. About his 4-4 Bills chasing a division rival, the 5-3 Jets, for playoff positioning. And at the end of a pretty tough game which saw his team hold off the Jets, we had a glimpse of just how much this game meant to him personally, something he never let known pre-game. The team played well in all facets of the game. The offense got a touchdown, special teams added another on a fumble recovery and his much-maligned defense chimed in with two INT's, a fumble recovery, two fourth-down stops and a sack (good for an 18 point contribution to my fantasy team.)

It was the big stage for Ryan and the Bills as he met his former employers in front of a national audience. Buffalo teams and their fans should get accustomed to the national spotlight as more success means more featured prime-time games.

Speaking of prime-time, of the four analysts on the NFL network, only Deion "Prime-time" Sanders picked the Bills to win last night.

The Sabers did well in the national spotlight on Tuesday as the downed the defending eastern conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 on the road on NBCSN. Last night on the second leg of their Florida road-trip, the Sabres, much like the Bills, had to gut one out as they held on for a 3-2 victory over the Panthers.

Buffalo headed into the third period with a 2-1 lead on goals by Brian Gionta (his first of the season)and Cody Franson (his second in as many games) and extended it to 3-1 on the powerplay as Sam Reinhart tipped a Tyler Ennis shot past Florida's Roberto Luongo.

The Cats were all over the Sabres much of the game, especially in the second period, throwing 17 shots at Buffalo netminder, Linus Ullmark. Only one got past him, a powerplay goal that was challenged by Buffalo but was upheld by Toronto. And in a 180-degree turnaround from last season, the Sabres weathered the storm and came away with Franson's goal with less than two minutes left in the period.

"It felt pretty deflating at the time," head coach Dan Bylsma told the gathered media as he talked about losing the challenge. "They carried the play for a large section of that period after that point and we came up with a big couple of shifts at the end of that period to get us the Franson goal."

The top line of Ryan O'Reilly, Gionta and Matt Moulson helped stem the tide late in the second period with the help of an icing by Florida. Although O'Reilly lost the draw they would re-enter the Panthers zone creating tons of pressure so much that they were able to change players while keeping Florida hemmed in their own zone. Franson was able replace Jake McCabe at the left point and he took a pass from Carlo Colaiacovo, who'd just replaced Mark Pysyk, and fire a shot home with Marcus Foligno in front providing the screen.

Tim Schaller, who had been inserted in the game in place of Nic Deslauriers, pinched hard to keep the puck in while giving an extremely tired Matt Moulson the opportunity to get to the bench. Buffalo was able to make a complete change while keeping Florida was hemmed in their own zone. A goal late in a period is something that's been happening to the Sabres for years, well before their scorched-earth rebuild was in full force. To have them do it to another team late in the period, then follow up with an early goal in the third period is a sight for the sore eyes that have been following this team.

It wouldn't be the only time the Sabres endured an onslaught as Florida was throwing the kitchen sink at Buffalo to try and tie the score late in the third with the extra attacker.

With the Sabres on their heels desperately trying to hang of for the victory, the Panthers pulled Luongo with just less than two minutes to play Ullmark stopped Dave Bolland on the backhand, the Sabres iced the puck and the fun really began.

It's best to keep in mind that the Sabres were without a time-out as they lost the challenge on the Jonathan Huberdeau goal. Florida pumped six shots on goal and had another couple blocked  in the final 1:40 as the Sabres went into Keystone Cops-mode. There were bodies flying all over the place, shots fired from everywhere and Ullmark making two huge saves, one with his forehead, but the tying goal never came.

When WGR's Paul Hamilton's lead-in to a question talked about the team scrambling at the end Bylsma gave a whistle and a "whew-we-survived-it" shake of the head, the talked about some of the individual players. "They had some looks at the net," said the coach, "[we] had a couple of blocked shots. The one-timer Ryan [O'Rielly] screams out there and eats the puck. We had six guys in and around the cage fighting it out and Linus [Ullmark] had to make one with his forehead, which he did to preserve the victory."

Like Bylsma told the media post game, the Sabres had to gut this one out. It wasn't their best game. They were outshot by a wide margin (38-19,) were outhit (35-33) were smoked on the draw (34-22,) and lost the challenge battle. Ennis had made a nifty play behind the Florida end-line and drove to the net squeezing one by Luongo but Toronto determined correctly that he was off sides on the play.

One of the things that Sabres fans should take away from this game is that they were able to beat a very good No. 1 goalie for three goals. Gionta's first goal of the season was a snipe that rocketed past the 6'3", 217 lb. veteran netminder while the goals by Franson and Reinhart came from traffic in front of the net.

It's something we've been wanting to happen for years.

Some notes taken from the Buffalo News' Mike Harrington:

--Buffalo has a three game winning streak for the first time since last December.
--The Sabres are now 8-8 and at the .500 mark for the fist time since winning the final game of the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season and finishing 21-21-6.
--Buffalo goalies stopped 66 of 69 shots on their Florida road trip and it was the first time they got the sweep in the Sunshine State since February 26-28, 2013.

Linus Ullmark to the media in Florida on the final :45 seconds of the game.

"I would say I was all over the place. I didn't really see the puck all the time I was just flopping around in my crease just trying to get something in the lane. Thank God I have a big head."

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