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Not to "overstate" the importance of what went on in the Marine Midland Arena Thursday, but after a night of careful consideration, it can reasonably be determined that the Buffalo Sabres put enough able and energetic individuals on the ice to carry out one of the presumed goals of the Buffalo Sabres ownership group.

They won a hockey game.

A pretty important game at that.

"I don't think we're in the realm of a Stanley Cup contender just yet," said Garry Galley, the Sabres' top performer in the 4-1 triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins. "But it is something to build off of."

For a lot of people.

You might have noticed that the Sabres have been under some pressure in recent days. So much pressure that members of the "ownership group" convened a few closed-door meetings in the MMA Thursday afternoon. Presumably they talked about reported problems in the hockey department and the business office. Questions were asked, statements were made and there's a pretty good chance certain people were given certain directives.

We don't know what those directives were, but the phrase "straighten up or else" would be a safe bet. The players certainly seemed to get the message.

Much of what has been missing in Sabreworld so far this season was back in plain sight in this game. Players played with emotion and a certain sense of desperation. Coaches coached as if their very jobs depended upon the outcome. The focus wasn't for 10 or 15 minutes. It was for 60 minutes. The attention span didn't slip when Pat LaFontaine went out of the game with a concussion, it intensified. The aggressive play didn't lag after they got a lead, it accelerated.

Bluntly put, the Sabres played the kind of game they have to play -- not just to win, but to survive.

"The last couple of days we've been doing some soul searching," coach Ted Nolan said. "We talked to the older veterans and the young rookies. Collectively we heard the boos, we heard the comments. We heard everything negative. As far as I'm concerned, when that happens I usually get real mad. I don't like to hear it and I'm quite sure the players with some pride don't like to hear it either. This (the win), we had to do for ourselves."

About time.

Nolan had been walking around like he was the Jim Kelly of hockey most of this week. He had his head bouncing on his chest. He was doubting all of the things that got him to the NHL. He was as unfocused as his team. Thursday he seemed rejuvenated, and so did his players.

"I think we had a good game from everyone," Galley said. "We knew we haven't been playing the kind of hockey we're capable of. We had to come together and take it to them. I think we showed some aggression and that's important. When we're aggressive on the puck we don't spend so much time in our own zone. We played a lot of the game in the other end tonight."

You have to wonder why it always takes a wake-up call of near epic proportions for the Sabres to come together. They went through a similar stinky stretch at the start of last season. It wasn't until Nolan questioned their character and the leadership here that there was even any semblance of team play.

Some of this year's problems can be attributed to the problems that were detailed in this newspaper Thursday. Contract disputes with key players also seemed to be a factor. So was the fact that the Sabres made no substantial changes.

Last year, Nolan stepped up and changed the direction. This year, it took some effort from the ownership to refocus their attention.

If everyone plays it smart, the whole operation can move forward from here. That doesn't mean the team will win every game, but if they give the same kind of effort, at least the fans will be entertained, the coaches and general manager will be satisfied and the players will be able to hold their heads high.

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