Thursday, Mar 3, 2011, 7:00 PM EST
Yes, this is a bit of an important game.
You could argue that the Canes were caught looking ahead to tonight's game when they effectively went on auto-pilot for the final two periods of Tuesday's game against Florida, and it was simply by the good fortune of the fact that theywere playing what remained of the Florida Panthers that they escaped with two points after a decidedly sub-par performance.
Repeat that performance tonight, and the Canes will find themselves below the thick red line, replaced in a playoff position by the team they face tonight.
The Sabres made a minor deal at the deadline, acquiring Brad Boyes from St. Louis, but otherwise stood pat. With the exception of Derek Roy, who remains out with a knee injury, the Sabres are healthy and, more importantly, the Sabres are hot: 7-4-2 since the All-Star Break, with points in their last four games. Their biggest addition in the past month has been in the boardroom, where lifelong fan Terry Pegula was approved as the team's new owner two weeks ago and immediately infused excitement and energy into the locker room. Tonight is the second game of a seven-game road trip for Buffalo
The Canes' lineup remains the same; Derek Joslin is expected to serve as the healthy scratch tonight, and the lines and defensive pairings will remain the same as they were on Tuesday. Games against Buffalo are always, er, a bit interesting; with a playoff position on the line, it will only be moreso tonight.
9:00 1st: Not for a lack of action that we haven't had an entry yet. There have already been three penalties, two by the Canes, with no goals on either side but with plenty of crunching body checks on both sides, including Tim Gleason knocking Tyler Ennis to the ice on a play that would have been boarding had Ennis gone into the glass. It's obvious the Canes are treating this game with the importance it deserves.
11:50 1st: Great chance for Jiri Tlusty from the slot, as a rebound bounced right to him and he had his shot on an open net blocked by a Buffalo defenseman. Despite being outshot 9-7, the scoring chances have been pretty even and the Sabres were helped along by two power plays in the early going.
14:35 1st: Huge break for the Canes as Thomas Vanek, who has a point-per-game career average against the Canes, backhands a puck behind Cam Ward and somehow wide of the open net by a few inches. Remember that one.
18:00 1st: The Canes have killed their third minor penalty of the period, in no small part thanks to the defensive play of Bryan Allen. He's been a bulldozer in front of the Canes' net, to the point that it's noticeable that he's clearing Sabres out of the crease. Been a long time since we've seen a guy willing to do that in front of Cam Ward.
End 1st: Still scoreless, but quite the entertaining period. Shots in the first were 11-7 Sabres.
3:48 2nd: More of the same early in the period. Cam Ward is keeping the Canes in this one. At the other end, it's been a long time since Ryan Miller faced a decent scoring chance.
4:35 2nd: Sabres lead 1-0; Montador 5 (Ennis, Sekera) And just like that, the Sabres finally cash in. A rebound of a Tyler Ennis shot bounced right to Steve Montador in the high slot, and he roofed it from 40 feet over Ward's glove to give the Sabres a well-deserved 1-0 lead.
6:46 2nd: Canes tie it at 1; Tlusty 6 (McBain, Sutter) Two minutes later, the Canes get it back on a broken play after two whiffs. Brandon Sutter held the zone with a jumping glove of the puck down to his stick, and by the time the puck hit the ice Miller was able to kick it out. After Tlusty whiffed, the puck bounced off a defenseman and right back to Tlusty, who made no mistake on his second opportunity. Big for the Canes to get that goal back, as the Sabres were on the verge of really putting the Canes back on their heels.
10:12 2nd: Sabres back up 2-1; Boyes 14 (Sekera, Connolly) And just like that, the Canes are back down on a goal that shows for all his offensive talent, Jeff Skinner still has some things to learn about playing NHL defense. A harmless looking wrister by Andrej Sekera was kicked out by Ward and right to Boyes, who had snuck down behind Skinner and tapped home the rebound on a play Ward had no chance to stop.
11:58 2nd: Canes knot it again; LaRose 12 (Skinner) And all of a sudden there's a ton of action, as Chad LaRose ties it back up off a sweet pass from the aforementioned Jeff Skinner. LaRose faked Miller out and deposited the puck into the vacated net, and he was seriously pumped going back to the bench. Have we mentioned this is an important game yet?
16:59 2nd: Staal's helmet comes off after being sandwiched in front of the net by Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Weber and we get our third scrap in the last four minutes. As a result of the scrum, Tim Gleason and Tim Connolly go to the box for roughing and we go to 4-on-4.
End 2nd: The Canes didn't exactly pour on the pressure late in the period, but at least keeping the Sabres from completely taking over the game is a step in the right direction. Shots in the period were 8-7 Canes, and the Sabres had an 18-15 lead overall.
3:40 3rd: LaRose gets a rebound five feet from the slot and with Miller out of position and the net wide open he shoots the puck high. As Mike Maniscalco said, that's the hockey gods' karma for Vanek's miss earlier.
7:43 3rd: It seems like Cam Ward knows that his team is back on its heels a bit right now, because he's covering everything and giving the Canes a faceoff every ten seconds or so. Of course, that means the Sabres are getting shots through to Ward to allow him to melt the play down, so it's probably a good move.
11:39 3rd: Despite giving up four power plays, the Canes' PK has bent but not broken tonight, and just as it ended Erik Cole drew a slashing penalty on a breakaway. This is, obviously, a large power play for the Canes, just their second of the night.
End 3rd: We're off to overtime. By virtue of the Rangers' loss to Minnesota, a Carolina win gives them seventh place in the East.
:26 OT: Canes win! McBain 5 (Pitkanen, Staal) And the Canes do indeed earn seventh place thanks to a fortuitous bounce through Miller's pads. Jamie McBain took an innocent-looking 50-foot wrister that was helped along by an admittedly great screen from Staal and Cory Stillman to give the Canes the win. Bob will have more in a few minutes. No audio; my recorder screwed up (user error, of course) so visit the Canes Country YouTube page to go inside the locker room.
Back at it tomorrow when the Canes head to Chicago to face the defending Cup champs...