Washington Capitals:

Hasek to Return to Sabres… as a Player?!? (Plus, some fun Hasek History)

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Don’t shoot the messenger.

hasek sabres 208x300 Hasek to Return to Sabres... as a Player?!? (Plus, some fun Hasek History)

Does Hasek want to party like it's 1999?

Hasek is actively (and vocally) seeking a spot on an NHL roster for next season. He’s already narrowed his choice down to one team. From the Vancouver Sun:

 The 47-year-old netminder, who didn’t play anywhere last season, has confirmed to several Czech publications he’s exploring the possibility of making a comeback to play an 18th season in the NHL.

“I know what I want,” said Hasek, who last played with Spartak Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League during the 2010-11 season.

“I know where I want to play, but I’m not going to talk about it. I think it’s better if you only know there are two sides and that’s enough.

“Now it’s not appropriate to publish anything.”

Hasek’s son Michael still attends Michigan State University and the six-time Vezina Trophy winner confirmed he recently was in the Detroit area visiting his son.

The Czech story said he also visited Buffalo, where he spent the bulk of his NHL career and has a charitable foundation.

“My agent, Ritch Winter, knows what I want,” Hasek said. “We’re working and will see how it goes, I don’t know.

“It’ll probably be decided in June.”

“I train regularly, almost every day, without exception,” Hasek told Isport.cz.

“I’m in great shape and the other sides know it. Of course, if I’d agree (to a contract), I’d go even more intensely by late June or such.

“I still haven’t gone on the ice. I went just before last season, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t prepare any differently.”

Logic would tell us that Detroit is the obvious choice here, but there isn’t much logical going on with this decision. Frankly, anything is possible. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was up the QEW jockeying with 4 other netminders for space between Brian Burke’s pipes next season. In any event, it is an interesting developing story to follow in the offseason.

And oh, what does this mean for the Sabres? Right now, nothing, except that if he goes pro, then we will have to wait another year to retire his jersey.

His playing days here were beyond memorable. There was so much just to the spectacle of his play, to the events on and off the ice, that some of them have been lost to history. Yesterday brought one of those more forgotten moments back. Remember May 25, 1998? From the Sports Illustrated vault:

BUFFALO, New York (AP) — The NHL admitted the play that led to the Washington Capitals’ winning overtime goal over the Buffalo Sabres in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals should have been blown dead for icing.

“What?!?” you ask/scream? No. “Figures,” you more likely shrug. This is Buffalo sports, after all. The shrug continues:

(Bryan) Lewis (the NHL Director of Officiating at that time) informed the Sabres that the overtime play should have been blown dead the moment Sabres defenseman Jason Woolley touched the puck. He said the failure to call icing came about because the linesman thought a pass by Washington’s Esa Tikkanen had been released at the center ice line, when it actually had been released before the line.

He also said a non-call for a video replay on a goal by Peter Bondra was “at the referee’s discretion.”

Had referee Kerry Fraser consulted the replay judge, the official could have told him that Bondra’s skate appeared to be in the crease when the goal was scored and the goal, Washington’s first of the game, would have been disallowed.

No Goal, part 1.

Sigh.

A blown icing play and a blown crease call, both in one game. Yup. Peter Bondra had scored the “foot in crease” goal in the 2nd to knot the game at 1. While replays clearly showed that his skate was “in the crease,” referee Kerry Fraser declined a video review.

kerry fraser sabres 300x222 Hasek to Return to Sabres... as a Player?!? (Plus, some fun Hasek History)

Jerk.

To make matters conspiratorial, this was a Buffalo/Washington game – with President Clinton in attendance. You can draw your own conclusions from that. Or you can just allow yourself to laugh over how unendingly stupid the history of sports in this town has been for the past, oh, 100 years or so.

Oh well. There’s always next year. And we just might have Hasek on board for another wild ride.

Go Sabres.

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Sabres GIFs: Pominville “Takes Ovechkin’s Will Away”

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If there is any doubt over Pominville’s captaincy of the Buffalo Sabres, it should be silenced now.

Since being named the captain of the Sabres before the start of the 2011-12 season, #29 has been Buffalo’s most consistent forward, leading the team in goals and points. He plays in all zones of the ice. He’s on the power play and the penalty kill. He never gets too high, and he never gets too low.

And oh, after the Sabres hit rock bottom with their 12th straight road loss (5 in a row overall) in St. Louis on January 21st, Pommers called a team meeting. I have no idea what he said to the guys after that game, but the results speak for themselves. Since that game, the Blue and Gold have gone 19-5-5.

All that being said, sometimes being the captain is all about one moment – one big statement. Something clutch. Meetings aside, for Pominville, his best statements come on the ice, and he made a big one in Washington.

Pomminville Ovechkin 300x208 Sabres GIFs: Pominville Takes Ovechkins Will Away

Triumph and disaster. It's nice to be on the triumph side of this play.

Much has been said about the “biggest game of the season” for the Sabres and Washington Capitals.

In short, the Sabres played 60 minutes of smart offense and suffocating, collapsing defense. The Caps rookie netminder, Braden Holtby, predictably succombed to the pressure under what his coach labeled as a “Game Seven.” The Ennis-Stafford-Foligno line continued to dominate, thrilling the raucous contingent of blue and gold clad fans at Washington’s Verizon Center with more of their patented 2 on 1 rushes.

Much has been said, but even this 5-1 victory was not without high drama. This thing almost got away from us.

The Caps dug deep, and had broken onto the scoreboard to make the game 3-1.  Christian Ehrhoff and Andrej Sekera had left with injury, and with Robyn Regehr in the box, the Sabres were down to 3 defensemen as they tried to kill off a powerplay and a Caps rally.

We all know what happened next.

 

 Sabres GIFs: Pominville Takes Ovechkins Will Away

 

Triumph and disaster.

Here’s another look:

 

 Sabres GIFs: Pominville Takes Ovechkins Will Away

 

Could this be The Goal of the 2011-12 season? With those Caps in position to rally, the Sabres’ captain met the Caps’ captain at the blueline, and the game became just that – captain versus captain. Pominville versus Ovechkin.

Pommers charged at Ovie, forced him to lose control of the puck, dragged him down to the ice, and then skated in for what turned out to be the back breaking goal of the “biggest game of the season.”

Pominville summed up the Sabres’ strategy after the game:

We wanted to take their will away.

Mission accomplished on that play on Ovechkin.

Then, a tip-of-the-hat from Ovechkin, captain to captain:

The goal on the short-handed — I should play [the puck with] my skate, not stick, but it happens. This mistake probably cost us the game.

For now, Pominville and the Sabres’ efforts cost the Capitals the 8th seed as well. Here is where we stand this morning:

ECS2 Sabres GIFs: Pominville Takes Ovechkins Will Away

For Ottawa, Buffalo, and Washington, it is now down to a 5 game playoff series. One team will be left out when the final whistle is blown on the regular season. The Sabres are the hot team of the East right now, while both the Caps and Sens have been suspect in net, giving them both an equal share of troubles. Still, there is plenty of hockey left to be played.

Here’s the remaining schedules for each:

Ottawa:

  1. March 31 – @Flyers
  2. April 1 – @Islanders
  3. April 3 – Hurricanes
  4. April 5 – Bruins
  5. April 7 – @Devils

Washington:

  1. March 29 – @Bruins
  2. March 31 – Canadiens
  3. April 2 – @Lightning
  4. April 5 – Panthers
  5. April 7 – @Rangers

Sabres:

  1. March 30 – Penguins
  2. March 31 – @Maple Leafs
  3. April 3 – Maple Leafs
  4. April 5 – @Flyers
  5. April 7 – @Bruins

 

That’s a big stack of games for these three teams.

At least for now, the Sabres sit in the driver’s seat, alone in 8th. It’s been a long climb since January 21st, but who’s to say that they are done climbing the standings yet? Much work is yet to be done, but #29 and his Sabres have proven a heckuva lot in the last 29 games.

19-5-5. Let’s keep this thing going.

And again, as for Pominville’s leadership, there is no need to question it anymore, and there certainly isn’t any need to ask him about it. All he’ll do is continue to answer on the ice.

Go Sabres.

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Sabres/Capitals BINGO: Special “Biggest Game of the Season” Edition!

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In case you haven’t heard, Reckoning Day is upon us.

The Sabres have played some pretty big games in their history, but this game – if they do win, and if it propels them into the playoffs – could be right up there with the biggest games in team history.

I’m not being histrionic.

The psychological outcome of this game could be huge. Oh, and the Sabres have a chance to make NHL history if they get this playoff thing done.

WackyGraphOfFate1 300x248 Sabres/Capitals BINGO: Special Biggest Game of the Season Edition!

The outcome of this game could keep the Sabres hot on their playoff charge - and it could derail them. I'm hoping that Blue and Gold will make green.

There’s a serious buzz in town over this contest. Hopefully, some good ol’ Sabres BINGO will be just the dose of levity you need while we await puck drop, ants in pants.

Our winner receives a can of ant repellent.

(As usual, click the image to re-size, and click again to re-size again.)

Sabres Capitals BINGO 300x215 Sabres/Capitals BINGO: Special Biggest Game of the Season Edition!

Here’s to hoping for bigger games ahead in this crazy season.

Go Sabres.

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Sabres Win Game, Confidence, Quote War

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On February 15th, the Sabres were 15th in the East, and 10 points out of the top 8.

No team has ever come from that far back to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the lockout. (EDIT: the Sabres are looking to become the first team in NHL history to be in last place in the conference in January and make the playoffs.) Now, just over a month after dwelling at rock bottom, the Sabres have tied the Capitals for 8th place. (OK, officially they’re in 9th. Both teams have secured 82 points, but Washington holds all the tiebreakers.)

So how did we get here?

1. Ryan Miller. He’s quietly amassed 5 shutouts over his last 23 games (going back to February 1st), tying him for the NHL lead with Ilya Bryzgalov. He hasn’t lost in regulation since March 5th. Since the All Star break, he has a 14-3-5 record, a 2.02 GAA, and a .932 save%. He’s back, and he summed up his success and the team’s surge perfectly for ESPN:

Goalie reflects team. Team reflects goalie.

WaxOnWaxOff 300x273 Sabres Win Game, Confidence, Quote War

Wax on, wax off. Paint the fence. Miller is owning the Zen power, and the crease.

Once I was healthy I started building back my focus and awareness, and that took some time. … I noticed my game turning when my mind was more at ease and I settled down and allowed the play to unfold. … All of which came when we started being a more responsible team. Knowing my guys are around me allows me to read the play and commit to saves. Without them, I have to cover more options, and the odds of making a save or second save aren’t as good. Having the boys cover my back and work hard makes my job easier.

Top-seeded teams are no doubt taking notice of Miller’s play, along with the Sabres’ overall defensive revival. No one wants to face a Sabres team this focused in their own zone (see: New York Rangers, March 23rd,3rd period, unable to score as Ehrhoff and Roy played back-up netminders to Miller as the Rags could only shoot in vain.)

2. The Sabres are scoring again, in droves. Travis Turnbull became the 29th Sabre to find the back of the net this season – Columbus leads the league with 30. To put that in better perspective, Buffalo has had goals from 30 players three times in 41 seasons, most recently in the 1991-92 season. Meanwhile, there’s that red hot 82-63-21 line. In the past 7 games alone, Tyler Ennis has 5 goals for 12 points and is a +12. Drew Stafford has 4 goals for 12 points and is a +10. Marcus Foligno has 5 goals for 9 points and is a +7.

Ennis Stafford Foligno 300x204 Sabres Win Game, Confidence, Quote War

Too bad the name "Production Line" is already taken.

 

***

Stats aside, there’s some new intrigue emerging here, and it’s all in the quotes, which Miller started us off with. Here’s a couple lines from Tyler Ennis after tonight’s win:

I think we’re just really confident. We know what we have to do. It seems like Washington keeps winning, so we have to keep winning. But we’re a confident bunch. Every game is a new test for us. We just have to focus on the next game. We’re playing well, Millsy seems to be stopping everything and that’s giving us a lot of confidence.

It reinforces how bad we want to make the playoffs. The Rangers are the top team in the East, and they’ve played great hockey all year. We came out and played pretty sound in all areas, and I think it shows how bad we want to make the playoffs.

As for that team they’re tied for 8th with? Let’s leave it to Karl Alzner to sum up how things are in the Caps’ locker room right now, after blowing a 3-0 lead en route to an OT loss to Winnipeg:

We s*** the bed.

As for that team we’re now chasing for 7th? The Senators just allowed 3 goals in the opening 5:41 to Eric Cole and his 15th place Habs. The Sens’ shoddy goaltending has them reeling in what looks like a death spiral. They’re just 1-3-2 in their last 6 games. Here’s what coach Paul MacLean had to say about his team’s troubles before the puck dropped against the Habs:

We’re still in the top third of the league as far as goals scored are concerned. That’s something that gives us the confidence we’re going to score goals again. Something has to spark it. Usually it’s the power play that gets it going. Then somebody gets hot, and away you go, you’re scoring goals again. We believe we’re going to score goals, and it’s going to be tonight.

Oopsy.

The Sens went on to fall 5-1.

But let’s not stop there. Even the almighty Bruins are a wreck of late. Since February 1st, they are just 10-14-1. The Bruins are 5 points up and have two games in hand over Buffalo, but heck, they have to play 9 games in the next 15 days – once every two days – with their last game against  (you guessed it) the Sabres. Here’s what Tim Thomas had to say, after a 2-1 defeat in San Jose:

We’re having a hard time picking up momentum, and keeping it for long periods of time. We proved recently what kind of game we can play. If you asked me before this game, I would have thought we’d carry it over. I thought after our last game we had turned a corner.

Hopefully we still have.

Keep hoping, Tim. Boston hasn’t won 3 games in a row since a 7 game winning streak waaaaay back in December. They’ve lost four straight road games, the longest such streak in three years, and dropped five of the last six away from TD Garden.

Yeah, it’s safe to say that there is a lot of turmoil in the NE Division right now. Meanwhile, Buffalo is surging, and carries a strong 12-5-4 record in the NE.

How much of your brain is saying “Whoa there!” at all this blunderbuss? Chances are a good portion of your mind is actually saying “We have a legit shot at the division.” That’s what happens when confidence is brimming. It makes fans and players alike envision victory.  The Sabres look to have the guts and the gusto to do just that, as this division and conference stumble alongside them.

Simply put: envision it to win it.

The Sabres have 7 games left to prove that their confidence, and this heroic run, is for real. But right now, it sure feels like they’ve got the sharpest edge on the ice, and in the locker room.

“How did we get here?”

That doesn’t matter anymore, does it? All that matters now is where are we going next – be it the NE Division crown or just a spot in the Top 8. It really doesn’t matter which, so long as the Sabres just keep pace with themselves.

Go Sabres.

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A Festivus Miracle Can Begin Tonight Against Washington

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Here’s hoping that your Christmas was a good one, full of overeating, hanging with family and opening presents. If there’s still one more thing on your Christmas wishlist, i.e. a return to winning ways for the Sabres – it may start tonight against the Washington Capitals.

Last time these two teams met (back on November 26th), the Sabres tore them apart in a 5-1 victory, leading to the Caps firing their coach, Bruce Boudreau. Who do they hire but old Sabres nemesis Dale Hunter who will obviously teach his players to viciously check guys without the puck who aren’t looking. Well, one likes to assume these things, that way we can work up a good dislike of the Capitals.

The Sabres are trying to avoid four straight losses, while the Caps are on a skid of their own. They’re 5-4-1 in their last ten games and they’ve only gone 5-5-1 since hiring Dale Hunter.

Perhaps we’re getting our Christmas wishes as the Sabres appear to be getting healthy: both Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht return tonight and on top of that Vanek will be playing. Paul Szczechura is a healthy scratch while Derek Whitmore returns to Rochester after a pretty solid outing with the parent club.

Both teams need some wins to get back in the playoff mix. The Caps and Sabres are 10th and 11th in the Eastern Conference respectively. The Caps are every bit as hungry for a win as the Sabres and should make the contest tonight a pretty fierce one.

Screen shot 2011 12 26 at 12.15.28 PM A Festivus Miracle Can Begin Tonight Against Washington

The Sabres are just 4 points back from the 7th and 8th spots. A win tonight and we leapfrog Washington to tie Winnipeg. (Click to embiggen.)

Aside from getting healthy again we also have a secret weapon. It’s name is flair.

The Sabres will be hosting a holiday sweater tent party – i.e. an ugly sweater party in the Tailgate Party Tent. Tickets are $10 bucks and you get a free beer! From the Sabres site:

Fans are encouraged to wear their favorite holiday-themed sweaters at the tent party and enjoy the Sabres trivia, music and Sabres prizes – including tickets, three autographed jerseys, an autographed stick and more – before heading inside First Niagara Center for the game. A current Sabres player will be on hand to interact with fans and sign autographs.

Ugly Sweater A Festivus Miracle Can Begin Tonight Against Washington

It's a work of art AND keeps you warm! Perhaps the Sabres should switch to something similar.

The more ugly sweaters, the more holiday cheer, the more emotion and rowdiness in the FN Center. Dig out your worst/best sweaters and add buttons, lights, whatever makes it gaudy and offensive to the eye. We can demoralize and/or blind the Capitals. Sabres players have an inverse reaction to ugly holiday swag and will be energized by it.

Here’s hoping it can spark the Sabres on a roll tonight!

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