The Buffalo Sabres are finished with the Vancouver Canucks for the season. And the world of hockey will be a calmer place.
The Sabres and Canucks teamed up for nearly three hours of beautiful offensive plays, big rallies, controversial goals and senseless violence Thursday night. At its conclusion, Buffalo claimed a 5-2 win before 17,699 in General Motors Place.
"It was definitely a game where you wanted to be on the winning side," Sabres defenseman Jason Woolley concluded.
Buffalo guaranteed itself at least a .500 record on this four-game road trip with its second straight win. The team will play the Oilers in Edmonton tonight (9, Empire, Radio 104.1 FM, 710). The win lifted the Sabres into a tie with Montreal and Washington for fifth in the conference, two points behind fourth-place Boston.
The Sabres and Canucks played in a fight-filled game back in January in Buffalo that resulted in 227 penalty minutes and stiff fines for both coaches. All of the fireworks in the rematch took place in the third period. Vancouver went into the last 20 minutes with a 2-0 lead on goals by Pavel Bure and Brad May before Woolley started the comeback with a pretty goal 1:09 into the period. Then came one of the oddest series of plays of the season.
With 5:10 gone, Peter Zezel of the Canucks poked a rebound over the goal line before Sabres goalie Steve Shields could push it back out of the net. Referee Dan Marouelli did not stop play. Fifty seconds later, Buffalo's Geoff Sanderson scored on a slap shot from the right side. The official then checked with the video replay official to see if Zezel's goal would count. The video judge ruled that Zezel was in the crease, wiping out that goal, and that Sanderson's goal counted. Instead of trailing 3-1, the Sabres were tied, 2-2.
"I wasn't even thinking about the play when we went down and scored," said Sanderson, who played his best game of the season. "The ref didn't signal anything (on Zezel's shot). That goal was definitely the turning point. We came out of it tied, and it gave us a life."
"It was kind of a weird call," Michael Peca said. "That was kind of nice. It was really big for us. The last time I saw anything like that was in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Canucks and Rangers (in 1994)."
A little more than a minute later, Peca took a pass in the slot from Dixon Ward and drilled a shot past goalie Arturs Irbe into the top corner, and the Sabres had the lead for good. Alexei Zhitnik padded the lead to 4-2 about two minutes later, and the hijinks started shortly after that.
While killing a penalty, Peca leveled Mattius Ohlund of the Canucks with a huge open-ice hit that left the rookie defenseman lying on the ice. He reportedly has a concussion and may miss two weeks. It was hard to tell if Peca hit Ohlund with an elbow or shoulder, but the Canucks started worrying more about retribution than winning the game.
"They used to love me when I played here for hits like that," said Peca, an ex-Canuck. "He (Ohlund) cut across our zone and I cut across to him. He had his head down."
Peca scored on a power play breakaway with eight minutes left, giving the Sabres their fifth goal of the period on just six shots. Both teams initially sent out their toughest players for the ensuing face-off, but Sabres coach Lindy Ruff decided to call time out to calm the situation.
"We were warned before the start of the second period by the supervisor of officials that if anything started it would be dealt with severely," Ruff said. "So I said, let's cool it here. And my smallest center gets his nose broken over it."
May, the former Sabre, did the damage 27 seconds after the resumption of play with a punch to Derek Plante's face. That was the first of three incidents that caused Marouelli to call 114 penalty minutes in a span of 80 seconds. A total of 158 minutes were called in the game.
"You're a little disappointed when that happens," Ruff said. "A lot of people like to see a good fight, but you don't like it to get out of hand. The cheap stuff you can live without."
Six players, including four Canucks, received game misconducts. Even though Buffalo was a little short-handed, Peca was nailed to the bench for the rest of the evening.
"(Canucks coach) Mike Keenan obviously had a plan. Someone probably would have jumped me on a face-off," Peca said. "It was a good idea not to play to those silly antics."
Both teams will have to wait and see if the National Hockey League takes more money out of their respective wallets or issues suspensions. In the meantime, the Sabres have to get ready for another game tonight.
"We've been able to refocus for games right away," Ruff said. "We've had a good road trip so far. We just have to build on it."