By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
There was a good amount of drama on the ice, and plenty of it off of it at KeyBank Center on Saturday night.
The Sabres took care of business in their game, blanking the Anaheim Ducks, 3-0, before a sellout crowd. However, most of the people in the building were unaware about what else was going on – while those watching on television were very aware of at least part of the story,
Rick Jeanneret, the team’s legendary broadcaster, was unable to continue his work during the third period of Saturday’s game. He received attention from medical personnel, which escorted him on a gurney from the building. There was no immediate word from the Sabres on Jeanneret’s condition. The lack of information – perfectly understandable under the circumstances – left most connected with the team in one way or another concerned and on edge for the rest of the night.
However, the Sabres released a statement on Sunday morning that said Jeanneret was “resting and doing well” after a night in Buffalo General Hospital. The team said the announcer was expected to be back at work after the Christmas break.
Jeanneret had been very visible earlier in the broadcast, as he dressed as Santa Claus for the part of the game. The announcer was introduced on the public-address system as he threw treats to the fans below the press box.
Brian Duff, the intermission host of the team’s television broadcasts, finished up for the 76-year-old broadcaster, who probably has meant as much to the franchise as almost any employee in team history.
Many shots, few goals
In the meantime, the Sabres and Ducks played a relatively rare type of game. Both teams had tons of shots and some good chances, but nothing much ever seemed to enter the net. That wasn’t particularly good news for a Buffalo team that had been offensive challenged in recent games.
But they did enough to win.
“I was glad to get the win going into the (holiday) break,” coach Phil Housley said. “The guys should enjoy it.”
For a team that had played the night before in Washington, the Sabres had quite a bit of jump right from the opening faceoff (taken by Johan Larsson, as a reward for his good play of late). Buffalo moved the puck well for the next 40 minutes.
“I liked our first two periods,” Housley said. “We found ways to gain the zone.”
Rasmus Dahlin was the only player to score in that span, though. His slapshot from the right circle beat John Gibson. But that was it – the Sabres were 1 for 30 in shots while the Ducks were 0 for 25 against Linus Ullmark. Gibson in particular turned in a superb performance.
Then the third period came around, and the Ducks had their big opportunity. Anaheim had two power plays in the opening six minutes, and Buffalo kept the visitors off the scoreboard.
“We gave them those opportunities, but we played really well and it kept us ahead,” Conor Sheary said.
It’s Skinner time
From there it was a matter of closing the sale from a Sabre standpoint, and Jeff Skinner – who else? – was up to the task. He got free on the right side, skated toward the net, and made the type of backhanded shot that was a classic goal scorer’s goal.
“I was honestly looking to go five hole for a second, but I went to the backhand,” said Skinner about goal No. 26. “It found its way into the net.”
“He’s a slippery guy,” Housley said about Skinner. “He finds a way to hang in there.”
The final goal went to Sheary, proving there is some justice in hockey every so often as he notched the empty-netter. Sheary had been in a scoring slump, but worked particularly hard during the last couple of games and certainly earned the reward.
“I don’t know how much it counts,” he said. “It looks the same on the scoresheet, I guess. I’ve been getting a lot of chances. I just wasn’t able to score.”
As the Sabres head into the Christmas break, they sit in third place in the Atlantic Division – a playoff spot. That’s a pretty good position for a team that finished 31st and last overall in the spring. The task after the holiday will be to stay there.
“We play in a good division,” said Ullmark, fresh from a 40-save shutout. “We’ve got to stay on top of it. Every game is important.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB, And have a Merry Christmas.)