It's been a long time since Buffalo fans saw Patrick Lalime play in HSBC Arena. His first three performances in front of the home folks were forgettable but Lalime was the best Sabre on the ice in Sunday's dismal 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Taking over for Ryan Miller to start the second period, Lalime stopped the first 26 shots he faced in his first appearance at home since Nov. 22 and earned the game's third star. Sergei Samsonov's deflected shot squeezed through Lalime's pads for an insurance goal with 2:12 left.
"I'm feeling good, working hard in practice," said Lalime, who finished with 28 saves. "Whenever I can get in there to give Ryan a hand, that's my job."
Coach Lindy Ruff had no issues with Miller, who allowed two goals on 18 shots. The change in netminders -- the first time Miller has been pulled since Nov. 19 in Boston -- was simply a desperate attempt to kick-start a lethargic team.
"It wasn't much on Ryan," Ruff said. "Just looking [to] maybe try to spark the team and I thought Patty gave us a heck of a game. . . . Ryan can't skate up the ice and compete from the blue line down. I thought he did his part."
"It's a tough situation on our goaltenders when we're leaving them out to dry like that," captain Craig Rivet said. "We're obviously relying on our goaltenders far too much. [Ruff] told us, 'If we're not going to work for one goaltender let's try another,' which right there is pretty embarrassing for all these players in the room."
Lalime entered the game 0-3 at home with a 5.12 goals-against average and .816 save percentage. His road numbers (2-4-1, 2.45, .917) have been much better, including a 34-save effort in a 3-2 loss in Anaheim on Feb. 2.
Lalime's best stop came about eight minutes into the second period, when he stayed with Ray Whitney on a breakaway and made a sensational glove save as the Carolina forward deked him to the ice.
"It's been a while since I've played at home and there's no better way to get in there than to have a chance like that," Lalime said.
Shift length for some of the forwards was a major concern as Buffalo got hemmed in its own zone several times and drew plenty of boos from the crowd.
A newly constructed line of Nathan Gerbe, Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville had a particularly troublesome shift late in the second period. Connolly was on the ice for 2 minutes, 6 seconds while Pominville was on for 1:37 and Gerbe for 1:06. At one point, the trio got the puck near center ice but no deeper and didn't head to the bench.
"We had some shifts where we deserved to get some boos because we spent large periods of time in our end," Ruff said. "There was a couple you had a chance to get off and then there was just a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel going the other way, so then they decided to stay again."
South Buffalo native Tim Kennedy had his first pro hat trick Sunday as the Sabres' Portland farm team survived a late collapse to win at Lowell in a shootout, 7-6.
Kennedy scored a goal in each period, and has five goals and 10 points in his last four games. Portland is 3-0-3 in its last six.
It was a wild game as Portland took a seemingly safe 6-4 lead when Mark Mancari scored into an empty net with exactly one minute left but gave up two goals in the final 25 seconds that forced overtime.