Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

January 4, 2008

TIM SCHMITT: Lackluster effort forces Ruff’s hand at magic

COMMENTARY: Miller pulled in favor of Thibault

BUFFALO — It’s got to be coated in rust after more than a decade on the job, but there’s still some sorcery in that wand Lindy Ruff waves. On Friday, it provided the Sabres with a kickstart they desperately needed in a meeting against big, bad Ottawa at HSBC Arena.

Just seconds after the Senators capitalized on a sloppy display of Buffalo defense to take a 3-0 lead, Ruff pulled Ryan Miller in favor of Jocelyn Thibault. It took 15 seconds for the Sabres’ fortunes to change as Ales Kotalik knocked in a pass from Thomas Vanek to get the locals back into it.

But magic can come at a cost. And when the Sabres finally took advantage of some breaks and evened things at 3-3, they were stuck with backup Thibault between the pipes, a meaty proposition for a Daniel Alfredsson-Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza line that’s known for chewing up number one goalies, let alone reserves.

With just under five minutes remaining and the building sensing a 2006-like comeback, Heatley’s eyes widened when he saw Thibault waiting at the end of an odd-man rush. Rather than pass, Heatley reared back and drilled a shot that sank the Sabres’ hopes in a 5-3 defeat, the team’s fifth such decision in as many starts.

Miller, the competitor that he is, didn’t want to come off the ice and said as much after the loss. But that’s to be expected from a guy who has fully emerged as a leader. One of the only. “I wasn’t real happy,” Miller said. “I would have liked to stay in there.”

Ruff certainly would have liked to keep him there. He rides his goalie like no other coach in the league and it’s conceivable Miller will end the season with close to 70 starts.

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