May 11, 2006
Working hard and winningSabres relishing blue-collar identity
By JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press
BUFFALO -- This is as blue-collar a city as you'll find in America -- and proud of it.
And equally proud that its hockey team has taken on that identity.
The Buffalo Sabres outskated, outmuscled and outscored the Ottawa Senators last night for a 3-2 overtime win and a 3-0 series lead in their NHL Eastern Conference semifinal.
The Sabres can wrap it up tonight with another win on home ice after J.P. Dumont floated a harmless looking shot over the right shoulder of Sens goalie Ray Emery from the top of the right faceoff circle 5:05 into OT.
Jason Spezza tied it for Ottawa on a power play with 1:30 left in the third period, his second goal of the night, deflecting a point shot.
Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson rang a long shot off the post with one second left.
"I missed it by an inch on the left and that seems to be the way things are going for me in this series," said the Sens captain, who has one goal in the playoffs, an empty-netter against Tampa Bay in the first round.
Sabres defenceman Brian Campbell of Strathroy said of this blue-collar approach: "Any team you play with, you try to resemble your city. We have a pretty skilled team, but we're also working hard and that's what we know the people of Buffalo want.
"We also know where we've come from. For the guys that have been in Buffalo and gone through the bankruptcy and the losing, now we just enjoy coming to the rink every day, and sometimes you can't say that. But you just can't expect to go out there and stickhandle."
There's nobody working harder than Buffalo rookie netminder Ryan Miller. The Sabres have been badly outshot in the three games (98-68), but Miller, a 25-year-old graduate of Michigan State University, has stood even taller than his six-foot-three, 160-pound body.
"I'm trying to learn each night as the playoffs go along and it changes every night," said Miller, born in East Lansing, Mich.
"I've been in (three) overtime situations now and being in overtime against Philadelphia the first night of the playoffs lets you know you just have to play hockey.
"Overtime doesn't change things. You can't be bouncing off the walls.You have to be steady. You have to be strong," he said.
"I think our guys do a good job of just playing our game and not getting too jumpy and throwing the whole kitchen sink at the goal."
Miller is always being kidded about having toothpicks for legs and how could he possibly carry a team this far?
The Sens have run out of legs against the Sabres' relentless pursuit and coach Bryan Murray said, "It's about finding a way -- we have to find a way to win a game to get out of here and go back to Ottawa."
Campbell, averaging almost 20 minutes of ice time each night in these playoffs, said the Sabres flew under the radar at the beginning of the season.
Some predicted they wouldn't make the playoffs, but the Sabres ended up with the fifth-best record, three points behind Ottawa, which was second overall.
And yet, even after Buffalo put it to the bruising Flyers in the first round, the money was still on a Senators series win.
"There's a lot of good hockey players in this room and people just have to figure it out," Campbell said when asked if people should be surprised by the situation Ottawa is in.
"We're the anonymous team around the league. But now it's the playoffs and the hockey world is starting to know we have a good team and I don't think we can creep up on anybody anymore.
"This is a special team that just likes to get out there and skate and shoot the puck and score and have fun, and you look at our fans, they're loving every bit of it."
Tim Connolly, who had been tied with Daniel Briere for the Sabres' lead in playoff points, sat out after taking a crunching hit in the first minute of Game 2 Monday.
Connolly played in Europe during last season's lockout after missing all of 2003-04 with post-concussion syndrome following a hit in a preseason game.