Every time the Buffalo Sabres have won a game this season, they did it with Ryan Miller in goal. Tonight that changed when Patrick Lalime made 39 saves to earn his first victory of the season. Lalime was tested early and often by the Blackhawks and he answered the bell on almost every occasion. The early pressure by the Blackhawks might have made it easier for Lalime to settle in become comfortable.
When the final horn sounded, the scoreboard read 2-1 in favor of the Sabres but getting there was a struggle. The Sabres took a couple of early penalties and the Blackhawks did everything but score with the man advantage. The Hawks fired eight shots on the power play and led the Sabres 13-5 in shots at the half way mark of the first period.
After killing off the penalties the Sabres seemed to take control of the game and they were the better team the second half of the first period. They carried that momentum into the second and played possibly their best period of the entire season. Thomas Vanek worked hard to score a power play goal and Clarke MacArthur netted his ninth of the season later in the period to give the Sabres a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes.
We have seen the Sabres blow leads in the past and it looked like that might happen again tonight. Patrick Sharp put the Blackhawks on the board just 30 seconds into the final period. Chicago seemed to build off that goal and poured it on the Sabres for the first 10 minutes of the period. The Sabres and Lalime weathered the storm and came away with a hard earned 2-1 victory against a very good Western Conference opponent.
- This was the type of game the NHL wanted to see after the lockout. It was two very good skating teams and both teams controlled play for long stretches. It was the Sabres that took advantage of their chances and earned the victory.
- The key to the game was the second period. The Sabres had gained some momentum at the end of the first period and they built on that and dominated the beginning of the second. That relentless pressure eventually led to a power play and a 1-0 lead after Vanek spun around in front of the goal to beat Cristobal Huet.
- Drew Stafford had a strong game tonight despite being held off the scoresheet. Stafford was a force in front of the net and was so close to the edge that he could have been called for interference on two or three occasions. The Sabres never capitalized on the opportunities with him there but they will come if he continues to play that way.
- I thought Vanek was really good again tonight. When Vanek works hard and does not get frustrated he is a force for the Sabres. He is still a young player but the sooner he learns that, the sooner he can be one of the best players in the league.
- Nathan Gerbe played another strong game for the Sabres as well. He plays physical for a player his size and this season he seems to control it better. He seems to realize that he needs to be an offensive player to stay in the league and play physical when necessary, last season I felt he tried to be too physical.
- Patrick Lalime was outstanding between the pipes and you have to wonder if he has earned himself some more starts. If he plays like he did tonight, Lindy Ruff will have no problem using him more often and giving Miller a rest.
The Sabres are right back at it tomorrow night against the New York Rangers. The Rangers came into HSBC Arena and beat the Sabres last week and they have an opportunity to get revenge tomorrow.