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Sabres, Leafs put on a show at HSBC Arena

bufsabsIt was the final home exhibition game of this September, and tickets for this game were not included in the season ticket packages. But for the 11,008 fans who were at HSBC Arena, including the usual smattering of blue and white clad Leaves fans, the crowd tonight was thoroughly entertained, as the Sabres defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2, thanks to second period goals by Jason Pominville, Jochen Hecht and Cody McCormick.

Buffalo took control of this game early on, outshooting the Leafs 18-5 in the first period, but were unable to finish and put the puck past netminder Joey McDonald. New Sabres tough guy Cody McDonald and Leafs forward Jay Rosehill got into a spirited fight early on, call it a draw. And Mike Grier, lined up with Paul Gaustad and Jochen Hecht, showed flashes of brilliance throughout the game, none more so than in the first period.

The Sabres got on the board early in the second thanks to a one timer from the slot by Nathan Paetsch. Jochen Hecht made it 2-0 a few minutes later, but Toronto got back into it thanks to a penalty shot goal by Jiri Tlusty, after he was upended from behind by defenseman Tyler Myers (assist on a bad giveaway by Chris Butler, who looked lost out there all night long and was arguably the worst performer on the ice). Cody McCormick then netted his first goal in a Sabres uniform to make it 3-1, but give props to Jeff Cowan for taking the puck to the net, the type of play we have seen too little of these past two seasons.

“We’re taking a little bit of a different approach this year,” said Nathan Paetsch after the game, who learned that he was indeed awarded the first goal of the game, following a scorers decision that at first gave Jason Pominville the tip in. Paetsch, who is fighting for one of the final roster spots on the defensive bench, a position he is all too familiar with, added, “Our guys are sick and tired of not making the playoffs, for our fans, for our team, for our coaches.”

Pominville stated that even though it’s only preseason, these two division rivals were in regular season form out on the ice tonight. “There was a real sense of passion and desperation out there tonight. Our fans feed on it, and everyone rises to it. We definitely put on a better show when Toronto comes to town, and here it is only September.”

Coach Lindy Ruff was in a particularly spirited mood following a solid outing by his team. While appreciating Cody McCormick’s toughness on the ice, Ruff stressed that this will be a team effort. “When it comes to that you can look in a lot of directions, we got Rivet and Gaustad and Kaleta. I think we’ve got a pretty good team that’s tough.”

Talking about the game, Ruff said, “We don’t really want to take the foot off the gas that much. I’d rather have the team play a tight game, These are good games to play in. We have to protect the lead. We have to learn to play the tight games. Tonight could have been 3-0 if Pominville scores. Instead it comes the other way and they get a penalty shot and it’s 2-1 and you have to battle to stay in the game.”

The Sabres are now 3-0-1 on this preseason, and travel to Canada this weekend for games against Montreal and Toronto. The regular season begins a week from Saturday at HSBC Arena against the Montreal Canadiens.

–Best line of the night… Lindy Ruff commenting on Drew Stafford’s busted lip. “Stafford had his lip stitched up in Washington, following a high-stick in Washington. Then his first shift out he got hit in the face again and blew it wide open, so he had to get stitched up again. At least it was after the red carpet walk.”