Sunday, September 11, 2011

Buffalo vs. Minnesota: Day 1 at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament

The opening contest in the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament pitted the defending champion Minnesota Wild against tourney newcomers in the Buffalo Sabres. The game was delayed briefly to start thanks to a brief power problem which affected the circuit breaker powering the scoreboard and the P.A. microphone. But after the brief technical glitches, it was on to the banner raising ceremony for the Wild’s 2nd tourney championship and a ceremonial puck drop from Cammi Granato, the first female HOFer from the United States.

There must have been an electrical storm passing through the area, because the power issues affecting the start of the game appeared to induce some malfunctioning for both teams. The play was choppy and jittery, as a current of nervous energy flowed through both benches. But the Wild gained composure first when Zach Phillips rifled a wrister past the Sabres’ Nathan Lieuwen on an odd man rush for a 1-0 with just 7 ½ minutes gone. Buffalo pressed for the early equalizer as Gregg Sutch snuck in front of the Wild’s Darcy Kuemper but was stopped at point-blank range. However, soon after that chance, the Sabres found themselves shorthanded 5-on-3 after minor penalties to Jonathan Parker and Marcus Foligno. Minnesota would make Buffalo pay when Chay Genoway’s snipe from the right faceoff circle beat Lieuwen for a 2-0 lead while on the 2-man advantage.

But the Sabres didn’t quit, and soon generated a few solid SH chances after Genoway’s goal. Their persistence paid off when Luke Adam tickled the twine on a laser off the left wing with just over 3 ½ to play to cut the lead in half. Some late penalty trouble by the Wild gave Buffalo a chance to tie things before the first intermission. With Brett Bulmer in the box on a slashing call, Nick Crawford floated a shot through traffic at the left faceoff circle that beat Kuemper with less than 6 seconds remaining, tying the game at 2 apiece, and giving the Sabres a much needed emotional lift after the first period.

Buffalo used the momentum they gained at the end of the first frame, and took the lead just over 2 minutes in on a Riley Boychuk laser off the left wing that fooled Kuemper (are you noticing the trend here?). The Sabres kept pressing for more, and almost added to the lead shortly after Boychuk’s goal. Foligno deked from right-to-left on a breakaway, fired a wrister which beat Kuemper, but grazed off the post without a sound and was ruled no goal. Parker stole the puck in front of the net and sent Kuemper sprawling to make a brilliant save.

Minnesota tried to use speed from Tyler Maxwell to push the puck into the offensive zone. The Wild also started to play physical, evidenced by a solid hip check by Carter Sandlak along the far boards that sent a rushing Zack Kassian flying. Kassian seemed unfazed, as he was still able get a shot off very shortly after in that same shift. A high-sticking call on Genoway late in the frame gave the Sabres an opportunity to tally another late goal at the end of the period, but this time it was the Wild who would tie the game late in the frame. Mike Kramer potted a rebound on a short-handed chance for the Wild to knot things up at 3-3 with just under 7 seconds to play, and that’s how the game looked after 40.

Buffalo started the third a bit rattled after blowing the late lead. Their defensemen appeared to struggle moving the puck out of their zone to start the rush, firing passes into the rushing forwards’ skates, leading to brutal turnovers. Though the Wild couldn’t immediately capitalize, they turned up the edginess in their play with some bone-rattling hits along the boards by Tyler Cuma and Kyle Medvec (on Kassian and Sutch, respectively).

The Sabres’ fourth line of Parker, Sutch, and Phil Varone were solid all game long, but they saved the best for the final frame. Sutch created traffic in front of Kuemper, and Parker potted the rebound on Sutch’s initial shot to give Buffalo a 4-3 edge with just over 12 minutes to play. Though Minnesota started to take some foolish penalties, the Sabres couldn’t take immediate advantage. Buffalo had a brief 5-on-3 advantage, made all the worse when one of their penalty killers lost his lumber briefly. Adam broke multiple sticks on one-timers, and his frustration showed when he skated towards the Buffalo bench. But a roughing call on the Wild’s Kris Fredheim with 2 minutes play (which Kassian took exception to, dropping the gloves with Fredheim) gave the Sabres another PP chance. Daniel Catenacci scored 8 seconds into the power play, and Varone added an empty netter with 1:05 to go to pad the Buffalo lead for insurance.

FINAL SCORE: Buffalo 6, Minnesota 3

Next door at Huntington Rink, Dallas had little trouble with Carolina. The Stars scored four goals in the first 7:14 and never looked back. Matt Mahalak had a rough day in net for the ‘Canes (though from what I saw, he had little help in front of him), allowing 7 goals in 2 periods of work before being mercifully pulled in favor of Mavric Parks. Matt Fraser paced the Dallas attack with a hat trick.

FINAL SCORE: Dallas 8, Carolina 2

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