Sunday, February 25, 2007

Of Battles and goals on a Saturday night

In the end the two sides didn’t quite fix bayonets, nor did they launch thermo nuclear weapons at each other. But when Saturday night’s featured match in Ottawa ended, both the Senators and the Sabres could claim a semblance of victory on the Scotiabank Place ice.

Under the watchful eye of the judge Colin Campbell, the two teams renewed their acquaintances in Ottawa, with probably one of the more anticipated match ups of the last few years. What was surprising was that the CBC didn't rearrange their broadcast schedule to make the Ottawa Buffalo game the national one, sticking instead to the travelling Maple Leafs and their match up with the underperforming Flyers.

As for the actual game, there was a replay of Thursday night’s end to end rushes, some solid defensive work and yes a scrap or two to avenge past misdeeds. But as the final seconds ticked off the clock the Senators would collect the two points with the 6-5 win, while the understaffed and rather young Sabres would show their head coach that despite the odds they would keep pushing on until the final buzzer.

The Senators by rights should have had this one clear and away, only a few mental miscues by goaltender Ray Emery allowed the Sabres back into the game, a few unusual goals in the Sens end of the rink brought Buffalo from the brink of defeat, to a participant in a fast flying free for all in the latter stages of the game.

As the game started it appeared that Ottawa and Buffallo were pacing themselves, taking the measure as it were of where the game was going to go. Heading into the first period intermission tied at one a piece.

In the second it appeared that Ottawa was going to run away with things, the Sens were flying and found the mark on martin Biron four times before he was pulled from the game in deference to Ryan Miller. As the Sens built their lead, the inventible settling of accounts from Thursday night’s bouts took place. Both Chris Neil and newly inserted Brian McGratton were involved with skirmishes in the second period, which while not quite as wild as Thursday night’s festivities seemed to bring the game to its much anticipated boil.

Once that was all out of the system, the Sabres began their comeback, a solid display of sticking to the mission and finding success, mostly as the result of sloppy play in the Ottawa end. Far too many rebounds were allowed to land on Sabre sticks, too many two on ones took place and an inability to clear the zone gave the Sabres the chances they needed and took advantage of to claw their way back into the game.

With the Sabres mounting a comeback, the silliness expected as a companion piece to the game ended as both teams settled down to playing hockey, hard hitting as it was. While some of the Sabre goals were of the unusual nature, the simple fact is that they were ruled goals and were the result of Ottawa miscues.

Despite losing the game, the Lindy Ruff must be pretty impressed with his young and inexperienced group of replacements. They showed a determination to not give up, didn’t seem to back down on the rough stuff for the most part and came damn close to stealing the two points away from the Senators. It was a performance that surely takes the sting out of the ten thousand dollar fine levied by the league over his role in Thursday's brawl.

For Ottawa’s Bryan Murray, a victory is a desired achievement but there must be some lingering concern over the inability to put away the competition and the unwanted miscues that make games closer than they really should be. Regardless of the way they got there, the win was a huge one for Ottawa, an entertaining night for the Scotiabank Place crowd who found much to stand up and applaud over the course of the night.

It marked the last match between the two bitter rivals this year, barring an appearance in post season action. Nobody sang Auld Lang Syne at the end of the game, perhaps with the wish that the Eastern Conference final will feature the two neighbours later in May. If the stars align and things work out that way, the Eastern final will certainly become one of the higher rated events for the NHL, and hey who knows it may even make it to the CBC national broadcast schedule.

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