Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

December 29, 2009

TIM'S TAKE: Stafford’s patience finally pays off

BUFFALO — Drew Stafford insisted during an involuntary one-game hiatus that he was simply waiting for an opportunity.

When it finally dropped in his lap on Tuesday, he had to wait just a little longer.

Down 3-0 and facing a 15-game scoring drought, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff tapped Stafford for a penalty shot in the second period against the reigning Stanley Cup champs. He said he wasn’t sure why. He just picked him.

But there had to be some method to Ruff’s madness. After giving Stafford the night off on Sunday in St. Louis, he’s been waiting for the team’s 2004 first-round pick to become a difference-maker. And with the Sabres already in a major hole on Tuesday, why not give the kid a chance to snap out of his skid, right?

Stafford stood in the circle and waited for officials to give him the OK. Then came a call from Toronto. The play was being reviewed.

Alone and without a goal since the day after Thanksgiving, Stafford stood at center ice as 18,000-plus waited quietly.

“I was just trying to stay focused and not psych myself out,” he said after. “There’s a lot of stuff that can be going through your head. I talked about being ready, and you’re not going to get an opportunity any better than that.”

When he finally got a chance to streak in on Marc-Andre Fleury, Stafford swept the puck across to avoid a possible poke check, like one Fleury pulled when the two teams met earlier this year. Instead of fully collecting it, though, Stafford snapped a quick wrister, hoping to find the five-hole.

It did.

And just like that, Stafford traded in the title of coldest Sabre and started a new streak.

He admitted he didn’t get everything on the shot, but when you haven’t seen the red light for more than a month, there’s no getting finicky.

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