At this point in the season, the rest of the Buffalo Sabres games are basically ceremonial, as they've got a stranglehold on last place in the league with just a few weeks to go.
Tonight, however, it was a different sort of ceremony that brought a sellout crowd to the First Niagara Center - the induction of Dominik Hasek into the Sabres Hall of Fame.
Hasek became the 42nd member of the team's own Hall after a fitting ceremony that received deservedly long and loud ovations from the Sabres faithful. Hasek himself gave a nice speech thanking his teammates for all they accomplished, the Buffalo community for supporting his Hasek's Heroes charity, and the fans in Buffalo for all their support over the years. It was smiles and good times all around, but after the carpets and podium were skated away, there was still a game to play, ceremonial as it may have been.
The Sabres got off to a hot start that justified the residual energy left over in the crowd from cheering on The Dominator. Matt D'Agostini opened the scoring eight minutes in by roofing a slick wrister over Ben Bishop's shoulders, while Cody Hodgson tipped in a Christian Ehrhoff shot just minutes later, and the Sabres found themselves with a two-goal lead for the first time in I-can't-even-remember. Despite sloppy play on both sides, the Sabres had some jump in their step thanks not only to Hasek's return, but also to the return of Zemgus Girgensons, who made a beauty of a play (see below) to set up Buffalo's second goal.
It was not to last, however, as Tampa came back and tied the game late in the first with goals from Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos. The goal from Stamkos was a huge mistake by Buffalo, as they left him wide open in the slot, where #91 slammed home a one-timer that few goalies would have been able to stop. "The reason they got those two goals," said Ted Nolan, "is the reason why we're in 30th place. We're puck-staring."
After a scoreless (and event-less) second period, the teams came out for the third period still tied at two. And then, something happened that I can honestly say I've never seen before. Cory Conacher committed a penalty, and with the Tampa net empty on the delayed call, a Steven Stamkos pass snuck through the Lightning defenseman and flew all the way down the ice, off the board, and into the Tampa net. Conacher, who drew the penalty to empty the net in the first place, was credited with the goal. It was a brilliantly stupid way to score, and only fits with the rest of the brilliant stupidity Sabres fans have seen all season.
Buffalo's good luck was not to last though, as consecutive penalties from Conacher (now serving his delayed call) and Mike WebARGH gave the Lightning a chance to tie the game up on the 5-on-3, which of course they did thanks to Ryan Callahan. "You just don't want to put yourself in that situation", said a sullen Conacher after the game. "You just can't be taking penalties like this."
The contest progressed in to overtime, where Steven Stamkos earned the weirdest hat trick you'll ever see when he netted his second for the Lightning (and third of the game) on the power play, and Tampa Bay walked out victorious. "I think we deserved a little better than that outcome", said Conacher. Drew Stafford, the man who took the overtime penalty, echoed his teammate's sentiments, adding, "We may be in 30th place but we can't play like a 30th place team."
Compared to their effort in Nashville, tonight's game was certainly a step in the right direction, but with just eight games to go in this dismal season, those types of small improvements will end up being largely ceremonial.
1. Does the return of Zemgus Girgensons mean the return of the Sabres looking like they actually care?
Oh, yes. The Sabres came out strong, didn't back down when Tampa tied the game late in the first, and Girgensons himself had a critical role in the Sabres second goal. He simply would not quit on the forecheck and wrestled the puck back to Christian Ehrhoff, whose shot Cody Hodgson tipped in. It was exactly the kind of play we haven't seen 'round these parts in any of the last few games, and you can bet Ted Nolan was happy to have him back in the lineup, calling Girgensons a "bright light".
2. How will Matt Hackett handle getting pulled in his last start?
Hackett responded well after giving up two goals at the end of the first period, shutting out the Lightning for the next period-and-a-half. However, his first and third goals against were ones that slipped through an open five-hole, and were shots you'd like to see your goalie save.
3. What will Dominik Hasek's HOF induction look like?
Hasek's ceremony was class all around, from the well-done tribute video, to the speeches, to the crowd standing and cheering for the full ten minutes. We put up a post with the video right here.
1. Steven Stamkos - 2g, 1a, 1og
2. Ryan Callahan - 1g
3. Rasmus Ristolainen - 1a, but was second on the Sabres in ice time, and played very well all night
Comment of the Game
Stamkos has more goals for the Sabres than Ville Leino.
This is indisputable fact.