Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

April 26, 2011

Notebook: Replacements provided little reinforcement

PHILADELPHIA — Come on, what did you expect? That fairy-tale ending Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff had talked about, the one with slick center Derek Roy scoring the winning goal against the Flyers wasn’t going to happen, folks.

How much could Roy and the Sabres’ four additions really contribute in Game 7? The answer, obviously, was very little. Heck, were they even close to 100 percent in the Sabres’ wretched 5-2 season-ending loss Tuesday inside the raucous Well Fargo Center? Probably not.

The Sabres desperately needed reinforcements in their tight Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, though. Too many key players — forwards Tim Connolly, Patrick Kaleta and Jason Pominville — had been injured. Pominville had surgery for a sliced tendon in his lower leg and is out four to six months, Ruff revealed.

That meant Roy and forward Jochen Hecht made their series debuts. Winger Mark Mancari made his first NHL postseason appearance. Defenseman Andrej Sekera returned after a four-game absence.

“We threw in two bodies that hadn’t played,” Ruff said. “That’s not easy, and you’re asking them to play a major role in a Game 7. Jochen Hecht hasn’t even had a practice with the team and Derek’s been out for four months. I know he’s been doing conditioning and everything, but there’s nothing like playing games.”

In a mildly surprising move, Ruff scratched Steve Montador, the Sabres’ top defender earlier this season. Montador, an unrestricted free agent this summer, has likely played his last game for Buffalo. He struggled throughout the series.

Roy did skate pretty well, playing registering an assist and a minus-2 rating in 20:10. Hecht had an assist and was even in 15:13.

With the Flyers throttling the Sabres early, Ruff mixed up his lines, using a slew of trios.

Roy (torn quadriceps) hadn’t played since Dec. 23. Hecht (upper body) last appeared March 29.

Connolly (upper body) missed his first game after Flyers captain Mike Richards hit him head-first into the boards. Pominville sat his second.

Rumors are swirling that Kaleta broke his hand. Ruff was asked Tuesday morning if he had broken it before or after Game 6.

“You guys like to make up crap,” Ruff said. “That’s a good story, though.”

Ruff joked later: “I took him out for counseling.”

Kaleta, of course, allegedly trash-talked Flyers stars Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell about their divorces Sunday.

Meanwhile, Hecht acknowledged Tuesday morning sitting “devastated” him. A pinky injured shelved him all last postseason. He clearly wanted to return badly.

“It’s just nerve-racking watching these games and not being able to help,” said Hecht, who insisted he was 100 percent after the game.

The Sabres recalled Mancari, a late-season regular, five times during the series. He’s been playing for Portland and joining the Sabres to serve as their emergency forward.

“Some of them I’ve been flying in the same morning and flying out the same night,” Mancari said.

Mancari tallied two goals and five points in three Portland playoff games.

“You feel tired but when you get out there it’s mind over matter,” Mancari said.

The Sabres also scratched forward Matt Ellis (healthy), goalie Patrick Lalime (healthy) and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn (undisclosed).

Sabres winger Mike Grier and defenseman Jordan Leopold (flu) missed the morning skate but played.

Flyers center Jeff Carter (knee) sat again.

•••

On March 26, Sabres defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani played his last game in Portland, recording an assist, his 60th and final point in the Pirates’ 5-4 loss to Charlotte.

On Tuesday, one month later, Gragnani skated 23:37 in a do-or-die NHL playoff contest.

The 24-year-old’s rapid development has been stunning.

Entering Tuesday, Gragnani’s six assists, seven points and five power-play points led the club and all NHL defensemen. The totals ranked first, second and first overall with several others. He also averaged more than 21 minutes a night.

“(Ruff’s) not going to throw anyone out there playing those minutes,” Gragnani said Tuesday morning. “I think I’ve earned it playing good, solid hockey.”

Tuesday was just his 22nd NHL game.

“He’s stepped in and used his tools very efficiently on the power play for us, moved the puck well,” Ruff said. “We’ve tried to make him feel comfortable in the role we’ve had him in. We’ve really not tried to put too much on him. He’s done a nice job.”

“It hasn’t been an easy situation,” he said. “Not many young guys could step in and do it the way he’s done it. As a young guy he’s stepped in, he’s played for free. There’s no pressure and there’s no expectations. He’s done an excellent job for us.”

The coolness Gragnani has showcased belied his inexperience. He rarely gets rattled. That even-keeled nature could be his greatest attribute.

“It’s helped me because obviously I’m not used to being here,” Gragnani said. “I’ve only been here a month. It’s the same game. It’s the same thing as down there. So I don’t get intimidated by that.”

Mancari, Gragnani’s teammate during four AHL seasons, called him a “calm player.”

“He knows how to go out there, control his emotions and put them in a positive way,” Mancari said.

•••

Despite being severely limited by the right hand he broke in early March, Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger played his second straight game, this seeing even-strength action and playing 17:27 total. He only played on the power play in Game 6.

•••

In another odd Flyers goaltending twist, Game 6 starter Michael Leighton, who allowed three goals on eight shots during a miserable 20-minute performance, has been demoted.

Leighton, a playoff hero last season, wasn’t on the ice Tuesday morning. He’s now fourth on the depth chart behind Jonah Backlund, who has 40 minutes of NHL experience.

Game 1 starter Sergei Bobrovsky backed up starter Brian Boucher on Tuesday. The 22-year-old rookie had been a healthy scratch since getting pulled early in the second tilt.

•••

The Sabres will play an exhibition game against Adler Manheim at SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany, Hecht’s hometown, on Oct. 4.

They open next regular season with games against Anaheim in Helsinki, Finland, and Los Angeles in Berlin, Germany.

•••

Flyers veteran Ian Laperriere has been named a Masterton Trophy finalist for his dedication to hockey. Post-concussion syndrome has sidelined the 37-year-old all season. He’s spent the time mentoring young players.

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