The scent was irrepressible the moment the lineup landed on Lindy Ruff's desk Friday evening, revealing Roberto Luongo would sit this one out. All year, opposing teams had thrown their best at the Buffalo Sabres, but for once the lion found the wildebeest sleeping in its den.
Dany Sabourin was fresh meat. The backup goalie was thrilled to collect a paycheck from the Vancouver Canucks. He had an easier job than the No. 3 quarterback in Green Bay. Take a few shots in practice. Take a shower. Take a seat on the bench. Enjoy the view. Where do I sign up?
The difference Friday night was that while Sabourin swapped positions with Luongo, the wildebeest switched roles with the lion. The twist was the lion felt fortunate to escape, the Sabres splitting town for tonight's game in Montreal with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Canucks before a sellout crowd in HSBC Arena.
Buffalo can rationalize it was a great comeback by a team that never quits, two points in the bank, see you later. It's true, but the Sabres were staring down an inexcusable defeat until Chris Drury scored with 39.1 seconds remaining in regulation on a shot that was deflected twice before trickling over Sabourin's left shoulder.
The Sabres best realize their fortune rather than convince themselves they deserved this one. Sabourin is a career loser with an 0-7 record and two overtime losses in 11 career games scattered over four NHL seasons. He was 0-3-0 with a 3.69 goals-against average and .851 save percentage this year before Friday.
Heck, he was looking to improve to below average.
When you line up against a vulnerable goalie like him, you do what lions do. You go for the throat. You pepper him with shots, bury scoring chances, remove any false hope and bury the bones. Here's what the Sabres did: They blew opportunities, took a snooze in the second period and almost allowed a weak goalie to escape.
Granted, Sabourin was terrific in the third period with the Sabres swarming. It was easily his best game this season, probably the highlight of his career. The facts show Buffalo played an exhausted team finishing off a four-game roadie against the other conference, one playing its third game in four nights, one prepared for the bus and a week off.
Jan Bulis scored shorthanded on a breakaway. Vancouver also had a shorthanded two-on-one that tested Ryan Miller. The Canucks generated more shorthanded than the Sabres did on half their power plays.
It was hardly a team sensing the kill.
Sabourin had spent most of the past six years bouncing mostly between the East Coast Hockey League and the American Hockey League. After suiting up for the likes of the Johnstown Chiefs and Wheeling Nailers, you welcome a season in Wilkes-Barre. He played well enough last season to punch his ticket to the NHL.
The Canucks had few plans for him this season. They traded resident Canucklehead Todd Bertuzzi for Luongo in the offseason with the idea they were a goalie away from contention. Luongo had a 10-1 record, a 2.29 GAA and a .934 save percentage in his previous 11 starts. He had a career 7-6-2 record against Buffalo, disguising his 1.99 GAA and .937 save percentage against the Sabres. His absence was a temporary reprieve.
Yet it was easy to understand where the Canucks were coming from with Sabourin in net. You win, great. You lose, well, what's to lose? Any team would happily return home with a 3-1 record after a visit to the other conference.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault threw the Sabres a curveball and hoped an unproven goalie would be unconscious for one night. What he found instead was a sleepy Sabres team, a lion that lacked hunger before finally picking away at the meal waiting for them at home.