NOTEBOOK: CHARACTER WITNESS
Wednesday, 03.25.2009 / 11:20 PM / Features
By Erin Pollina - Sabres.com
|Mikael Tellqvist (Photo: Bill Wippert)|
“Not bad for a team with no character, eh?” he said of the win, citing recent criticism of the team’s passion. “Everybody is just counting us down and saying that we have no character. We’re just going to lay down and just give up.
"This shows everybody that we really do want to win.
“We came back.”
Jason Pominville’s goal midway through the third period began a four-goal rally for the Sabres, but perhaps the best display of character occurred with 30 seconds remaining in regulation.
Maxim Afinogenov scored an empty net goal to solidify the win for Buffalo, when Florida’s Keith Ballard charged the winger from across the ice to deliver an elbow.
Craig Rivet, Tim Connolly and Clarke MacArthur stepped in, earning a total of 17 minutes in penalties on the play.
“That was awesome,” Head Coach Lindy Ruff said. “First of all, it’s just another head shot that really is totally unnecessary. Max could have gotten hurt on the play but he didn’t… but I liked the way everybody responded.”
More importantly, Ruff was happy they kept their playoff hopes alive. Entering Wednesday’s contest, the Sabres were trailing the Panthers by five points in the Eastern Conference standings. The victory put them within three points of Florida, and five points behind Montreal for the final seed in the playoffs.
“They never quit,” Ruff said. “It must have been frustrating for them for a while out there tonight. They were working hard and they were minus-2, but they never quit. And they kept with it. We’re still in tough but we’re going to battle… it’s not going to be easy.”
What will help, he believes, is the character in the locker room.
“The strength of that game came from the room,” he said. “It didn’t come from anything I was going to say… it came from [Craig] Rivet and [Jason Pominville] Pommer and Timmy [Connolly] and the likes of those guys and the voices you’re going to hear from the room.
“It doesn’t come from me going in yelling and screaming. The strength of that game came from those 20 guys wanting it that bad.”
Ruff had a lengthy discussion with Afinogenov after a shift in the first period that lasted more than two minutes.
“It wasn’t even about the long shift really,” Ruff said. “It was about where he put the puck at the end of that long shift. I brought him in and just told him that ‘I happen to think you’re playing real well, but don’t overcook it. You’ve been out there a long time, use the far wall and just chip it down the ice and give our guys a chance to change.’
“I said ‘you’re going to play and I think you’re one of our better forwards right now.’ Emotions were running hot. I like his fire. He fired right back and he thought that what he did was right and I thought what he did was wrong.
“We met a little bit more on my side.”
Wednesday’s contest marked Andrej Sekera’s 100th career NHL game. The defenseman made his debut Dec. 9, 2006 in a two-game stint for the Sabres. In 2008-09, his first full season with the team, he has registered career highs with 61 games played, three goals, 14 assists and 17 points.
Irish singer Ronan Tynan sang “God Bless America” prior to the game. Tynan has performed at a number of Buffalo Sabres games in the past, including the NHL Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 1, 2008. His CD is available at the Sabres Store or online at www.ronantynan.net.
Jason Pominville had some family in attendance from Green Bay, Wisconsin. The winger’s aunt held a sign at HSBC Arena reading “I bought Jason his first pair of skates” with a picture of Pominville as a child.
The Repentigny, Quebec native has dual citizenship in the United States and Canada (his mother is from Wisconsin).
AROUND THE EASTERN CONFERENCE:
|Ottawa 1||Calgary 0||Minnesota 6|
|Carolina 2||Pittsburgh 2||NY Islanders 2|
1. Boston 102
2. New Jersey 97
3. Washington 97
4. Philadelphia 90
5. Carolina 89
6. Pittsburgh 88
7. NY Rangers 86
8. Montreal 83
9. Florida 81
10. Buffalo 78
11. Toronto 75
12. Ottawa 74