I’m trying to figure out what the best part of last night’s game was. Was it Patrick Lalime coming in cold and shutting the door on two all-world players? Maybe it was Drew Stafford coming through when given a chance, or even Lindy Ruff having the balls to give him that chance. Or maybe it was Paul Gaustad getting his stick free in front, or Tim Connolly sliding that puck to Jason Pominville in the faceoff circle. It could even be Tyler Myers telling Evgeni Malkin to take a seat.
Or, it’s all of the above.
You can argue the turning point in this game, but to me it involves this shot right here. The Sabres get a break and have a penalty shot called when Jay McKee “gathers” the puck into his body in the crease. Anyone on the ice can take that shot, but Lindy gives Drew Stafford his chance.
We talk about Lindy’s “Doghouse” quite a bit, but don’t ever say he doesn’t give his dogs the chance to make good. The truth is that Stafford got lucky: he would later say he fanned on the shot, but lucky for him Marc-Andre Fleury played it terribly and it slides in. It was the jump he needed, and it was the jump the team needed as well.
But keep in mind that the Penguins got their chances, too. Miller let in three uncharacteristic goals, and they were buzzing for a long time after Miller got pulled. They had everything going for them, but the Sabres battled back with their all-world goaltender on the bench. Earlier in the season, the Sabres don’t win this game. When Miller lets in a bad goal, the Sabres lose. It happened on Long Island and on Tuesday it looked like it was happening again, but Lalime was there this time, and the team responded.
From there it was a lot of good work from everyone involved. It may have felt like it was inevitable, but shift after shift of good work made it feel that way for a reason. There was Stafford using his size like he should, working the puck in front with a nice move and getting it to Gaustad for the tying goal. There was a strong shift to draw a penalty, and Tim Connolly making a great pass to set up the game winner.
And then there was the last eight minutes, with that group fighting for the tying goal. Shift after shift the Sabres had to keep the best line in hockey off the scoresheet, with a backup goaltender between the pipes to boot. But this was different than the last time these two teams met, and Myers, Hank and Company wasn’t going to give this lead up.
So we may not nail down what the best moment of the game is, but I think it’s clear that this is the most important win of the season. Down three goals to the defending Stanley Cup Champs, their best player on the bench; the Sabres defended home ice and came up with a huge win.
Perhaps more importantly, no one is dreading a Lalime start anymore. The Sabres are a few games from the halfway mark this season, and after the Olympic break we will be seeing a lot more of Patrick Lalime. After all the silly trade rumors about Marty Biron and a conditioning stint in Portland, Lalime has responded in a way most Sabres fans never dreamed of. He’s winning games, he’s saving games, and more importantly he’s become a reliable backup. If there were worries with this team it is scoring punch and Miller’s backup. Last night neither of those were an issue, and that’s a great sign.
It didn’t start out pretty, but last night was everything you wanted to see from the Sabres. Miller will come back strong, the Sabres might get another healthy winger back, and maybe Stafford will go in a tear for once. It may only be one game, but it’s the kind of game that can be the start of something more.