Goalie Martin Biron always had his teammates' moral support. Saturday night, he finally got something a little more substantial from the Buffalo Sabres' skaters.
Buffalo went into Saturday night's preseason finale having scored just eight goals over six games -- and just one in the two games in which Biron played. But in Saturday's preseason finale against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sabres scored early and often as Biron skated away with a 6-3 victory.
"We've played well offensively, but we just didn't have any production," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "This is a young team, and we're going to grow together. Tonight showed what we can accomplish when we are clicking."
The capacity crowd of 17,700 at Copps Coliseum, a "neutral" site populated mainly by Maple Leafs fans, also saw the teams combine for 66 penalty minutes. Most of the penalties were incurred in a series of fights that erupted in response to a third-period check in which Jay McKee appeared to knock Toronto's Mikael Renberg unconscious.
But despite Toronto tough guy Tie Domi's efforts to fire up his teammates -- who responded with a pair of third-period goals -- the Sabres still closed out their exhibition schedule on a positive note, thanks to a well-balanced offensive front. Five Sabres scored, with only winger Stu Barnes putting up more than one point with two goals and an assist.
"I know a lot of guys feel better about their game. They'll feel better about going into the season," Ruff said.
One night after Ottawa goalie Patrick Lalime foiled Maxim Afinogenov on a breakaway, the speedy winger redeemed himself on another solo trip for the game's first goal. The Sabres made it 2-0 with just 1.8 seconds left in the first period, as Vaclav Varada backhanded a puck past Toronto goalie Mikael Tellqvist.
The slickest goal of the night came early in the second period on a rare two-on-none break, with J.P. Dumont and Miroslav Satan flying up the ice after a turnover by Toronto's Alexander Mogilny. Looking like he was ready to shoot, Dumont instead left the puck sitting just in front of the crease for Satan, who beat a startled Tellqvist.
Toronto got on the board with 3:41 left in the second, when center Mats Sundin made a beautiful pass to new acquisition Renberg, who poked the puck past Biron.
Just 34 seconds into the third, Renberg was again the center of attention as he skated right into a clean shoulder check from McKee. Renberg lay on his stomach motionless for about 45 seconds before slowly getting to his feet. He skated to the bench under his own power, but that didn't stop Domi from committing a retaliatory cross-check less than two minutes later, at the same time as Barnes was scoring his only goal on an unassisted wrister.
For the infraction and the ensuing brawl, Domi got a cross-checking and a roughing minor, the latter of which was cancelled out by Rob Ray's roughing minor. About 30 seconds after he got out of the box, Domi went after McKee again, starting another set-to.
Ray dropped the gloves with Wade Belak less than a minute later; both were ejected. That stopped the fists from flying, and allowed the officials to regain control of the game that had clearly gotten away from them. Of the referees' failure to crack down on players like Domi sooner, Ruff said, "They're going to have to explain that to me."
After the scuffles finally broke up, the Leafs scored two goals in two minutes, with Nik Antropov and Mats Sundin beating Biron. Barnes and Gratton, however, scored for Buffalo in the final 39 seconds.
"It was a good gut check," Gratton said. "Guys really hunkered down."