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Sabres lose, series tied, Vanek might make trip to Boston

This afternoon at HSBC Arena, the Sabres squandered a 2-0 lead, game momentum, and suffered an injury to their star player Thomas Vanek. From there it was all bad news and the team lost 5-3 to the Boston Bruins, before a sellout and packed crowd of 18,690, thousands more toughing out a late spring chill to watch outside at the Party In The Plaza, and national TV audiences watching coast to coast on NBC in the States and CBC in Canada.

The Sabre Killer in this one was defenseman Zdeno Chara, who scored two goals, including the game winner at 7;23 of the third period. The Bruins added an empty net goal in the closing seconds to put this one on ice. “I don’t think it’s them so much, I think it’s us,” replied defenseman Henrik Tallinder when asked what Boston was doing so well to take control of the ice. “We wanted to make things happen with the lead,” added Jason Pominville. “We couldn’t seem to make things happen the way we wanted to in that third period. It’s too bad after that great start to open the game.”

Things did indeed start well with the Sabres. The team took a 1-0 lead thanks to a slap shot by Tyler Myers from inside the point, then Matt Ellis made it 2-0 on a back hand later in the period.

But Vanek’s injury late in the first period seemed to take the wind out of the teams’ sails. Vanek was taken into the boards and then slammed by Johnny Boychuk, who was assessed a hooking penalty. Vanek limped to the bench on his own power, then skated back onto the ice to the other gate and was taken to the dressing room. In the second period it was announced in the pressbox that Vanek had suffered a “lower body injury” and would not return.

Boston struck quickly in the second, and just like the first game took control of the play in the middle frame. Michael Ryder’s airborne shot took a strange bounce upward and landed in the net behind Miller. Soon thereafter, Zdeno Chara scored from the left slot on a perfect rebound with a wide open net.

But Buffalo would regain the lead thanks to a shot in close from Jason Pominville, and the Sabres went to the dressing room with a 3-2 lead, and a season long perfect record when leading after two.

Boston continued their stifling forechecking game in the third, repeatedly breaking up breakouts from the Sabres defensive zone, and they made it count. Ryder and Chara both scored their second goals of the game to give the Bruins the lead. Buffalo finally mounted some pressure later in the period but could not beat Tuukka Rask. Once the goaltender was pulled, the Sabres were unable to get any sustained control in the offensive zone, and the empty netter sealed it.

A disconsolate Ryan Miller said that most of the Boston goals came courtesy of some fortuitous bounces. “They got some pretty solid bounces. The first one was spin over the top. Then there was the four on two. They definitely got their bounces and it was unfortunate that we went into the third with a 3-2 and it didn’t hold up. We’ll take a little bit from this game and regroup, go out and try to get the next one.”

The big question on everyone’s mind at Coach Lindy Ruff’s postgame news conference was what is the status on Thomas Vanek’s injury. “He suffered a lower body injury on a slash from Boychuk on a breakaway,” reported Ruff. As for missing time, he replied, “We don’t know yet.” Later on it was asked if Vanek is expected to make the trip to Boston for games 3 and 4, and Ruff replied, “We expect him to make the trip to Boston.”

Ruff admitted that Vanek’s departure from the ice had an effect on the team, which at the time was riding high with a two goal lead. “Anytime a player like that goes down it’s a bit of a let down. That line was going pretty good for us, Thomas was going good so that was really disappointing.”

With the series now tied at one, that assures that a Game 5 will be played in this series, at HSBC Arena next Friday. The teams now head to Boston for Games 3 and 4 at the T.D. Garden.

TARO SEZ…

-Props to the thousands of fans who braved the elements and a biting spring chill to make the downtown streets come alive and the Party In The Plaza a huge success. Buffalo fans are the best and the hardiest and the scene was much like a tailgate Sunday in November at RWS.

-Our colleague and media veteran Wayne Redshaw from Welland reported a 40 minute wait getting across the Peace Bridge this morning. When he arrived for the customs check he was promptly recognized and waved through by the customs officer, who then told Wayne, “I’m sending anyone wearing Bruins gear or recognizable as a Boston fan over to the side for special inspections today. Isn’t technology great!” We hope the customs guy was just kidding… or maybe not!