Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

March 26, 2009

SCHMITT: Finally, Sabres show some heart

BUFFALO — What? Where? How?

If you missed the third period of Buffalo’s 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers, call your buddies to find out who DVR’d it and pop on by with a pizza tonight. This was straight therapy for fans who’ve been put through a painful ringer the past two seasons — a time when goals and guts have seemed absent at inopportune times.

You assumed Maxim Afinogenov’s empty-netter ended it. Case closed. After trailing 3-1 in the third with their slim playoff chances hanging in the balance, the Sabres rallied with an incredible stretch of four goals that left the Panthers in equally rough shape.

But while the goals were vital, it might have been a late melee that finally brought this team together.

After he tucked it in the net, Afinogenov got bounced like a ping-ping ball, Nathan Horton playing the role of Paddle No. 2.

Not surprising. Teams have run at the Sabres goalies. At their superstars. Heck, if Lindy Ruff was on skates he’d have a target on his back, too.

And a group that included Tim Connolly, Jaroslav Spacek, Clarke MacArthur and Craig Rivet was on the ice, the only teammates that could come to Afinogenov’s rescue.

Aside from Rivet, that’s hardly intimidating.

That’s when it happened — a group that hasn’t protected each other all season did so just when you assumed they’d already pulled the wedges out of the closet.

All five Sabres scrapped and scrapped and scrapped some more. Rivet kicked the bejeezus out of former Sabres draft choice Keith Ballard. Then as things finally settled down — the thunderous HSBC crowd on its feet — MacArthur motioned to Stephen Weiss, nodding with his head that he wanted to go.

That’s right — Clarke MacArthur. Looking for a fight.

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