It wasn't just another loss for the Sabres Friday night, this loss is going to sting awhile. The Thrashers went the distance for a 5-4 shootout win, which is a story of its own, but it was the way they lost that hurt. Ryan Miller missed the third period with an apparent knee injury and backup Jocelyn Thibault had to come in to relieve. The Thrashers beat Thibault twice including the tying goal with just 18 seconds left. The Sabres ended up with two players in the box in the final minute of regulation when Clarke MacArthur went for hooking and Toni Lydman went for clearing the puck over the glass. Henrik Tallinder went to the box in overtime for hooking but Buffalo managed to kill that penalty. Eric Perrin scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Thrashers the extra point.
The game was hyped as a grudge match for the Thrashers who were embarrassed by a 10-1 loss to Buffalo a couple of weeks ago. The Thrashers publicly admitted to being upset, not only from losing but they felt the Sabres were laughing at them during the game. It probably had more to do with the Sabres struggles previous to that game and the fact that they finally were going to win the game but it was motivation for Atlanta nonetheless. The Thrashers seemed to turn the anger towards Ryan Miller who was crashed in his crease all night.
Ryan Miller was apparently injured during the second period and he did not return for the third. The injury is not a serious injury and Miller is expected to play on Tuesday against Boston. Thibault made only seven saves allowing two goals on nine shots but the saves he made were anything but routine. I have been extremely critical of Jocelyn Thibault and his play this season but he deserves some credit for making some big saves. As well as Thibault played I'm happy to hear that Miller will be back.
The loss was devastating to the Sabres for a couple of reasons, one is the way it happened as mentioned above but it was also devastating because of the Sabres and Thrashers proximity in the Eastern Conference Standings. The two teams came into the game tied at 52 points and now Atlanta is one point ahead of Buffalo in the race for the final playoff spot. Buffalo still has games in hand on Atlanta and currently sit in 11th place five points out of a playoff spot.
It was a game the Sabres probably should have won. They seemed to dominate for long stretches in the game. Three first period goal posts and some outstanding goaltending by Johan Hedberg were some of the Sabres missed opportunities. The Sabres alos missed an opportunity to seal the victory when they allowed the Thrashers a five on three advantage in the final minute of regulation. It was apparent that Lindy Ruff was displeased when the Thrashers tied the game, it was the first time I have seen him angry during this slump. It's amazing how quickly I forget three straight wins after one shootout loss.
The Sabres will be off until Tuesday when they continue their road trip in Boston against the Bruins. The Bruins are in 7th place and six points ahead of Buffalo in the standings. Stay tuned for more information on the status of Ryan Miller.