Before tonight's game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes, the hockey interwebs were abuzz wondering what would happen tonight at the First Niagara Center. Would people cheer for the Coyotes, or boo the Sabres? What would a battle between the 29th and 30th place teams look like? If the game went to a shootout, would both teams pull their goalie?
And while things started out slowly, with the crowd relatively unsure of how to act, it wouldn't take long before we found out the direction this game would take.
A loud cheer went up (louder than any away goal I've heard) when the Yotes opened the scoring thanks to Jordan Szwarz. It was odd to hear, and honestly surprised me since I didn't actually see the goal itself. That cheer, however, was quickly and thoroughly outdone by the reaction to Tyler Ennis' tying goal, a backhand thing of beauty with help from Matt Moulson.
The first period would end tied at one, but Arizona would be the team to control the second. Although the Sabres struck first thanks to an absolute rocket from Rasmus Ristolainen on the power paly, the Yotes would quickly score the next two goals on their way to outshooting the Sabres 18-10 in the period, and by the end of the second, Arizona would already have 30 shots.
As the game went along, the pro-tanking crowd became more and more vocal, cheering Sabres penalty calls and saves by Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, and howling after Arizona goals. We kept glancing at each other in the press box, wondering how far this would go.
The third period became more and more bizarre as we inched closer to the final horn. Mike Smith got loud, full, cheers for making big saves, and Brian Gionta actually got audible boos for tying the game late in the third after a HORRIBLE Shane Doan turnover. We even heard some faint "Let's Go Yotes!" chants ringing in the rafters.
Ultimately, the game would head to overtime, where the biggest pro-Arizona cheer of the night would come as the Coyotes scored the winning goal on the power play to take the game 4-3, and widen the Sabres lead on 30th place to six points.
After the game, some Sabres (Gionta, Hackett, Nolan) were reluctant to talk about the fans turning on their home team, but Mike Weber wasn't afraid to share his opinion. "I respect our fans, I love our fans, but I've never been a part of anything like this," said the man whose penalty led to the game winning goal. "This is a new low."
Regardless of the outcome of the game, and the truly bizarre feeling in the arena, it was clear throughout the night that Arizona were the better team. They outshot the Sabres, won most of the loose puck battles, and generally looked like the (slightly) more talented team.
The 29th place team played the 30th place team, and in hindsight, we shouldn't have been all that worried. Now when can we start cheering again?
1. Patrick Kaleta and Zach Bogosian will both return to the lineup tonight - what kind of impact will they have on the game?
A big hit by Kaleta helped to draw two first period penalties, something the 28-year old pest still excels at, but neither player really affected the outcome one way or the other. Nice to see Patty back on the ice though.
2. Which goalie will help (or hurt) his team more?
Mike Smith made a few huge saves, particularly late, that earned him legitimate cheers from the Sabres faithful. Matt Hackett wasn't tested as much, but did battle through a third period injury that had him crumpled on the ground and needed a visit from the trainer.
3. Was their last five-goal outburst the beginning of a turnaround for the Coyotes bad luck, or simply an outlier in their awful season-ending run?
Arizona dominated play most of the game, and while not many of their shots were particularly dangerous, they did outshoot Buffalo 42-35. They were clearly the better team tonight, and their play makes me feel better about the rematch coming up.
Comment of the Game
3 point game
I'm not sure the rest of the league would agree about the whole integrity thing, but yes.