Sticks and bones
By Matt Romig, Yahoo Sports
May 20, 2006
They just couldn't get a good look at him.
They may, on the other hand, wake up in a cold sweat with visions of Jay McKee (6 blocked shots), Toni Lydman (5 blocked shots) and Chris Drury (3 blocked shots, including a deflection of Carolina's final volley) floating in their heads.
Buffalo executed a perfect road win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Sabres scored first to neutralize the crowd, they stayed out of penalty trouble and they built a wall around Miller, their rookie goalie, to protect a third-period lead.
And keying that effort was Buffalo's ability to disrupt shooting and passing lanes all afternoon. The Sabres blocked 29 shots in all Saturday (Carolina had 14). When they weren't getting in the way of shots, they were preventing them altogether. Carolina was forced into 17 giveaways. Buffalo turned the puck over only 10 times.
No doubt Carolina will spend some time Sunday working on faking shots to open shooting lanes. And Buffalo's rear guard will ice up in preparation for another day of absorbing pucks.
THIRD STAR OF THE DAY
Buffalo owned the second period, but it would have been all for naught without Daniel Briere's fifth goal of the playoffs. Ryan Miller got the play started deep in the Buffalo zone. Two crisp passes later, Briere was hit in stride at the blueline. He skated in and beat Ward glove-side with a backhand shot that gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead.
SECOND STAR OF THE DAY
Ok, ok, so Carolina did get a few pucks on net Saturday. Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller faced 31 shots, 17 coming in the third period and three in the final 70 seconds after the Hurricanes pulled goalie Cam Ward. Miller was outstanding, just as he was in the final four games of the Ottawa series. Buffalo minimized the odd-man rushes, but there was traffic to deal with all day, and Miller was strong in stopping 29 shots.
FIRST STAR OF THE DAY
Defenseman Jay McKee was a central player in Buffalo's block party. He interrupted six Carolina shots and logged 22 minutes of ice time as the Sabres adjusted to the loss of defenseman Teppo Numminen, who was injured in the first period and didn't return. Blocking shots is nothing new to McKee. He led the NHL in that category in 2005-06. Scoring goals? Now that's something new. But McKee scored a big one Saturday, exiting the penalty box to beat Ward for a third-period goal that held up as the game-winner. It was his third goal in 46 career playoff games.
Cory Stillman would probably like to have another shot at a one-timer in the final seconds Saturday. Carolina had an extra skater with Ward on the bench and Stillman had a glorious scoring chance when a cross-ice pass put the puck on his stick with an open Buffalo net just feet away. Miller was beat, but Stillman failed to get the puck on net, missing wide right.
Defenseman Brett Hedican took a wrong turn on Briere's second-period goal. Some great Buffalo passing set up the scoring chance, but Hedican found himself out of position when Briere crossed into the Buffalo zone. As a result, Hedican caught up to Briere's hip pocket only after the speedy Buffalo winger had released the backhand shot that beat Ward.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR SUNDAY
Game 2: Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Mighty Ducks – It's possible to lose Games 1 and 2 at home and rebound to win a series. Carolina proved just that in the quarterfinals. But the Ducks have to feel Sunday's game is a must-win after dropping Game 1 at home. Anaheim has now lost five straight to the Oilers and it hasn't won in Edmonton in seven years. Friday's Game 1 was closer than the 3-1 score indicated, and Anaheim should have some jump back after shaking off the rust caused by a week off between series.
Matt Romig is a senior editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Matt a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Saturday, May 20, 2006 9:52 pm, EDT