Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Buffalo vs. Detroit: Day 3 at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament


The final contest on Tuesday of the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament between the Buffalo Sabres and the Detroit Red Wings was essentially played as a formality. Buffalo entered the day 2-0 after victories over defending tourney champ Minnesota and Columbus, and had already earned a place in the championship tilt (with the other half of that card being the New York Rangers, despite losing in double OT to Carolina earlier in the day). On the other hand, Detroit would be relegated to the 7th place game following losses to the Blue Jackets and Wild to start the tourney. Their sloppy play - especially versus Columbus – was quite uncharacteristic for a team wearing the winged wheel, and they sought to amend their game plan and please the very pro-Red Wing crowd at Centre ICE.

The first period certainly resembled Red Wing hockey as the Detroit blueliners – led by top pairing Xavier Ouellet and Brendan Smith – forced the rushing Buffalo attackers out towards the boards and cut down all angles on nearly every rush into the Detroit zone. Gustav Nyquist showed some grit in battling for pucks behind the net in both ends. Smith later flashed some offensive panache by taking the puck on a one-man rush all the way up the ice, evoking shades of Pavel Datsyuk’s stick work. Smith’s shot from the point was tipped past Buffalo’s Nathan Lieuwen by Marek Tvrdon with 8:15 to play to give the Wings a 1-0 lead.

Buffalo would get the equalizer just over a minute later when the yeoman’s effort of Phil Varone paid dividends, beating Evan Mosher – in Detroit’s camp on a free agent tryout – as he was sliding across the crease left-to-right. The up-tempo pace proved exciting for the fans, who were delighted to see Detroit reclaim the lead with just under 3 minutes left in the opening frame on Tvrdon’s second goal of the game, a blast from the point with lots of red in front of Lieuwen.

Goaltending was front and center in the second, as Lieuwen stoned Willie Coetzee, who was sprung free on a breakaway attempt. Mosher would flash the leather on a 2-on-1 break for Buffalo where he slid left-to-right across the crease. But Mosher nearly made a major gaffe misplaying the puck in the left corner, getting back to the crease in the nick of time. Lieuwen would put his glove work on display, corralling numerous blasts in the slot, as the Red Wings outshot Buffalo 15-6 in the middle period.

However, the Sabres would tie the game at 2-2 on Marcus Foligno’s bang-up goal in front of the net with 6:46 to play in the second, and nearly got another goal on a wrap-around where Mosher closed up the five-hole just in time. Buffalo blueliner Corey Fienhage showed some velocity on his howitzer blasts from inside the blueline, but could not quite tickle the twine, as the teams went into the lockerroom knotted up at 2 at the second intermission.

While Buffalo had elevated their game in the third period in their previous two games, it was Detroit who provided a late-game blitzkrieg on this day. Bryan Rufenach’s laser from the high slot just 2:14 in gave the Wings a 3-2 lead. Just 35 seconds later, the Wings top line executed with surgical precision a tic-tac=toe setup with Joakim Andersson tapping in Nyquist’s feed to add to Detroit’s edge. Trevor Parkes deflected Andrej Nestrasil’s shot past Lieuwen less than a minute later, giving the Red Wings a 5-2 edge (that’s 3 goals in 1:31, if you’re counting, and Lieuwen didn’t have a chance on any of them). The aggressive forecheck of the Red Wings thwarted any opportunities for the Sabres. Any daylight Buffalo had in the Detroit zone was closed up quickly, as the Detroit defenders blocked shots by clogging all shooting lanes. Perhaps the best chance Buffalo had was Kevin Sundher’s drive to the net, which ultimately sent him sprawling past Mosher, who finished with 19 saves for the win.

FINAL SCORE: Detroit 5, Buffalo 2

Certainly the game was a moral victory for Detroit, but they will play Carolina for 7th place today. Buffalo’s loss ended their chances at an unblemished record in the tournament, but they will still advance to the finals vs. New York tonight (which will be televised by MSG Network and simulcast on NHL Network starting at 7:00 PM Eastern).

In Tuesday’s other late start, the Columbus Blue Jackets edged the Minnesota Wild by a score of 3-1. Although I didn’t see the play, eyewitness accounts told me there was a bit of controversy on the winning goal from the stick of Michael Chaput, scored with 2:17 remaining in the second period. It sounded as Chaput’s shot beat Minnesota netminder Matt Hackett and rang off both posts. The referees conferred with one another and called the play a goal, although the goal judge did not hit the light. Sorry, Wild fans, but the “war room” in Toronto doesn’t factor in here in Traverse City.

Today’s schedule for the final day of the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament looks like this (all times listed on Eastern Time Zone):

7th place game: Detroit vs. Carolina @ 3:00
5th place game: Minnesota vs. Dallas @ 3:30
3rd place game: Columbus vs. St. Louis @ 6:30
Championship game: Buffalo vs. New York @ 7:00

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