Sunday, March 3, 2013

New Jersey Devils 3 at Buffalo Sabres 4 (SO) - March 2, 2013

OK, I've been yammering on and on about boycotting the NHL but absolutely nobody listened to me. Not even myself. When I checked the new schedule after the lockout ended, I saw that Buffalo had a home game on March 2nd, the date I would be flying from New York back to Toronto. The First Niagara Center was one of three NHL rinks where I had yet to see a regular season game, so I had a dilemma. Should I simply forgo the NHL this year, or try to find a way to get to Buffalo and cross another arena off the list. I chose the latter option and my regular roadtrip friend Sharpy agreed to pick me up in Toronto and drive me to Buffalo. Meanwhile, Andrew of the Ultimate Sports Road Trip would sell us his season tickets as he would be out of the country on a European sports adventure.

I began the day in Manhattan, took a taxi to Newark Airport, flew to Toronto where Sharpy met me and we drove to downtown Buffalo, location of the First Niagara Center, where the Sabres hosted New Jersey (who coincidentally call Newark home).

First Niagara Center

We arrived in Buffalo just after 1 pm and drove around to look for free parking, which we located about a five minute walk west of the arena near Marine Drive. Fortunately, gates open two hours early so we were able to enter the arena to get out of the freezing weather. There are several entrances into the first floor atrium, a spacious area (below) where the ticket windows and Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame are located. This is a detailed display with memorabilia from all those inducted, including Don Majkowski, the Packers QB prior to Brett Favre.

The seating bowl doesn't open until one hour before the game, so we were able to tour the main concourse and see some of the history on display such as the Blue Zone which has a good history of the Sabres (below).

We stopped by the Pour Man's Aud Club and grabbed some lunch as the Beef on Weck ($9) there is the recommended dish. It comes with a bag of chips and some pickles, so you get all your food groups. We also found a charity stand that was offering very large and very good chocolate bars for just $1, so that was desert. After our completely healthy meal, we walked around the concourse, which is quite spacious at first (below) but fills up quickly as 19,070 fans make their way inside.

We didn't do much else as we had met a friend of Andrew's and were chatting with her for most of the pre-game. So when the players came out for the warm-up, we headed to our seats and got ready for the battle at hand.

The Game

Martin Brodeur was hurt for the Devils so Johan Hedberg got the start against Ryan Miller. The Sabres had recently fired long-time head coach Lindy Ruff and were on a 2-game win streak as they tried to salvage their season. The first period was a snooze as the Devils played a typical road game, limiting the Sabres to six shots.

Things got going in the second when the Sabres scored shorthanded as Cody Hodgson won the puck on a forecheck and fed a wide-open Jason Pominville, who slapped it in from the slot. Just two minutes later, the Devils' Mark Fayne shot from the point and the puck bounced off Ryan Carter and then Steve Bernier before finding its way behind Miller (perplexed below) and the 1-1 tie.

The third period saw New Jersey open the scoring on a shorthanded marker by Adam Henrique, but Buffalo responded two minutes later when Hodgson (#19 below) again found an open Pominville streaking down the right wing. His shot was partially blocked by Hedberg, but still made it into the back of the net and we were tied again.

Near the midway point, Jochen Hecht took a shot that bounced off the side of the net. Hecht continued around the back of the cage and took a pass from Mikhail Grigorenko and fired from the other side, sending the puck in off a diving Hedberg. Yet again though, the lead was less than two minutes old when the other team tied it, this time Andrei Loktionov doing the honours to cap a great three-way passing play with Stefan Matteau (son of Devils slayer Stephane) and Ilya Kovalchuk.

The remaining 8 minutes decided nothing and neither did overtime, where Buffalo had the only two shots. This took us to the shootout. Pominville went first for Buffalo and beat Hedberg to the glove side. Kovalchuk missed for New Jersey, and when Tyler Ennis scored five-hole for the Sabres, it was up to Adam Henrique to keep the Devils alive. His backhand shot was gloved by Miller and the Sabres had their third win in a row.

After that horrid first period, both teams played well the rest of the way. Each club had one shorthanded goal, one fluky deflection, and one goal as a result of a nice passing play. Miller was just a bit better than Hedberg and earned the second star as a result. A good game to mark  my only NHL visit this season.


Even though there was no Canadian team playing, O Canada was sung. Great touch!

The Sabres logo is one of the best. I don't know why they changed it back in the mid 90s, but I'm glad they brought it back.

Both Ennis and Henrique were penalized for roughing at the end of overtime but were still allowed to shoot in the shootout. I think that if you are in the box at the end of OT, you should not be allowed to shoot. Are you listening NHL GMs?

Next Up

I'm going to visit Brampton today for an OHL game, one of the last to be held there. The team moves to North Bay next season and a CHL franchise will move in. This will be the last game of the trip, so there will be one final recap tomorrow and a trip summary after that. Check back for those posts in a couple of days.



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