Niagara Gazette

Sports

May 24, 2006

TIM SCHMITT: Briere, Jillson measure up for Buffalo

COMMENTARY

BUFFALO — Big and Danny Briere aren’t mentioned in the same sentence too often. His media guide listing of 5-foot-10 must have been measured before he unlaced his skates.

But Buffalo’s co-captain seems comfortable that he’s doomed to be deemed one of the tiny guys, leader of a pack of lovable little scrappers, part of a mini-army that’s forced to use speed rather than strength to collect wins.

On Tuesday, coach Lindy Ruff had a simple message for Briere, the heart of the Sabres’ top line:

Play big.

In a game the Sabres had to have, a game that followed the team’s worst playoff outing, Briere was one of the many who stood tall in the corners, buried the shots he needed to, and put the Sabres back in the series lead.

But he wasn’t alone.

In Jeff Jillson — a talented defenseman whose biggest knock isn’t that he’s small, but that he plays like it — Briere had a companion in overachieving. Someone who need to play big for the Sabres to win against a Carolina team that seemed too talented to keep up with in Game 2.

Jillson’s story is interesting. He was the 14th pick in the 1999 draft, the next big thing when taken by the San Jose Sharks.

But Jillson has shuffled between minor league teams ever since. He was even passed over when the Sabres needed a second replacement on the blue line after Dmitri Kalinin and Teppo Numminen hit the infirmary.

Jillson didn’t just play on Wednesday, he was one of Buffalo’s best defenders, clearly better than Rory Fitzpatrick. It was enough to justify Lindy Ruff’s decision to put Doug Janik back in the press box.

“I thought he had an unbelievable game,” said fellow defender Toni Lydman, who was probably happy to see any reserves come over the boards. Janik played just over four minutes in Game 4, but Jillson played closer to 11 in Game 3.

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