Niagara Gazette

March 30, 2008

SABRES NOTES: Enough Max, fans say; Ruff listens

By Tim Schmitt

BUFFALO — Sabres fans trying to put their displeasure on display at Sunday’s home finale against Boston didn’t have much time to do so.

Prior to gametime, a group of fans put a sign on the wall above section 327 that read “We’re Maxed out; trade him.”

Midway through the second period, however, the sign had disappeared.

Maybe Lindy Ruff saw the message anyway. During the Sabres 2-1 overtime win over Boston at HSBC Arena, Ruff benched winger Max Afinogenov for long stretches, including the final seven minutes of the second period.

Ruff said he was unhappy with an early turnover, but later felt Afinogenov “gave us some life.”

For the contest, the eighth-year forward got just 7:36 worth of ice time, less than every Sabres aside from Patrick Kaleta.

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Although Andrej Sekera got the overtime goal on a blast from the point, many in the locker room were talking about the play of Mike Weber, who started the winning exchange by forcing a turnover.

Ruff pointed out that the pair has acquitted itself nicely since being formed because of a rash of injuries to the defensive corps. Weber is a bruiser who gives the team some needed grit, and his plus-minus is a gaudy plus-14 in 13 games. Sekera, meanwhile, saw more ice time on Sunday than any other Sabre, and only trailed Boston workhorse Zdeno Chara for the overall lead in minutes.

“I have to play hard every single shift, every time I’m on the ice,” Sekera said. “I’m just trying to show (Ruff) the decision he made was a good one.”

Weber felt comfortable enough to jump the play during the overtime rush, and Ruff felt comfortable having the rookie on the ice.

“I kind of read the play,” Weber said. “I could tell he was going to make that pass.”

And what was Weber’s reaction when he saw Sekera’s shot hit the back of the net?

“I had a big smile, and I thought, ‘we’re still in this.’ ”

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Although the Sabres got two points with the win, the Bruins’ point puts Buffalo in an even more daunting position. Buffalo can only reach the postseason if Boston loses its last three games and if Buffalo wins all three of its games. The two teams meet again Saturday in Boston. And the Sabres still trail ninth-place Washington by a point.

Despite the long odds, Ruff insisted he didn’t consider pulling Ryan Miller in regulation in an attempt to prevent Boston from getting any points.

“We would have liked to (win it regulation), but not at the expense of losing,” he said. “No points would have done us no good. You can’t take yourself out of it.”

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Another sellout crowd witnessed the home finale, although many of the seats went unused. On the season, Buffalo sold out 40 of its 41 home dates, and boasted the league’s highest capacity percentage. The figure is skewed, however, as the Jan. 1 Ice Bowl is included in the mark.

Contact group sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.