Not Dead Yet
It seemed, on the surface, an utterly crushing defeat for the Buffalo Sabres in Game 5 Sunday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The kind of defeat that suggests a team's will has been broken.
Up 3-1 on the road partway through the game. Unable to score on a variety of chances in overtime, including during a carry-over power play from the third period.
Stuck with a tough hooking penalty on J.P. Dumont. Beaten on a wild bouncer off the end boards for the OT winner.
Man, that one had to hurt.
But despite the devastating nature of the setback, there were also some strong suggestions that the Sabres aren't dead yet.
First, there was that two-goal lead established over the opening 25 minutes of the game, with the Sabres looking sharp and opportunistic.
The battered Buffalo defence corps, meanwhile, held up reasonably well, better, in fact, than it had in Game 4. By Game 6 tomorrow, both Jeff Jillson and Doug Janik will have to be feeling a little steadier, and Teppo Numminen may even be back. Rory Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, was a plus-2 in over 26 minutes of skating time, while Toni Lydman scored a gorgeous goal.
Adam Mair returned from a long concussion layoff and stirred up trouble, while lanky Paul Gaustad was more effective, drilling Eric Staal with a hard hit into the boards.
Finally, Lindy Ruff has to be wondering just how many times can his Carolina Peter Laviolette play juggle-a-goalie and come out looking brilliant?
Whether it's Cam Ward going in for Martin Gerber or Gerber relieving Ward, it has been uncanny how often Laviolette has hit the jackpot.
But that also means he has seen both netminders as wanting at different times. Gerber looked like the right choice for Game 5 and now Ward appears automatic for Game 6, but this seems a very unorthodox way to get top-flight playoff goaltending.
The Sabres seem to be wobbling, but they might well have enough to force this one to go seven.
Then, Ryan Miller could have a chance to steal it.