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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Six goal outburst keys Nordiques victory in latest instalment of The Great Game

The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph
November 20, 2012

Conn Smythe once said, “if you can’t beat ‘em in the alley, you can’t beat ‘em on the ice.” The Great Game derby between the Buffalo Sabres and Quebec Nordiques never disappoints in that regard. Especially tonight.

For two periods, the Sabres were in total command of the game, leading the Nordiques 3-0 despite the fact Quebec was outshooting the Sabres 30-20 through two periods. Then, as if Sabres goaltender Jason Lacroix’s force field dissipated, every shot the Nords took found their way in. Keying the comeback was Alexei Kovalev’s pair of goals, the first one early in the third that took a 3-1 contest to a tie game that came mere seconds after Steven Stamkos scored to get Quebec on the scoreboard. Scoring for the Sabres were Matteo Arnoldi (twice) and Wallace Robinson.

“I knew that if we kept shooting we’d eventually break through,” said Kovalev. “I saw Lacroix moving a bit too much, so I knew we had an opening…and I hit it.”

After the game, the 4,000 or so Nordique faithful that always make their way to Buffalo derided the Sabres for their lacklustre third period performance, imitating the sound of snoring that echoed throughout the stadium. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff had to concede afterward that even though he found the fans annoying, they were right.

“Pathetic,” said an apoplectic Ruff after the game. “I don’t care how many shots they had during the game, if you’ve got a 3-0 lead, you have to close it out. You have to. Those stupid Nordique fans had a point.”

Ruff may hate the rival fans, but the truth was they were responding in kind to the Sabres’ fans own sophomoric conduct. Throughout the stadium, Sabre fans couldn’t get enough of making fun of Quebec for their sole loss of the season back on November 14 to the Chicago Blackhawks, a game where Nordique goaltender Jose Theodore went on a bizarre skate up ice with the puck before Blackhawk defenceman Lars Frolik stole the puck and easily potted what would be the game winning goal. Signs and banners abounded taunting Theodore for his “Sunday morning stroll”, and every time Theodore made a save, the Sabres’ organist couldn’t resist playing Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song”.

The Nords were far from lazy in this one. As is usually the custom on these nights, several fights broke out, most of them on the ice. Arnoldi and Philippe Peppin got into a spirited bout in the first period, while Danny Fox and Jeff Carter fought twice in the second. Finally, just before the comeback, Martin Lapointe- often mocked for choosing the Sabres instead of his hometown Nordiques- couldn’t resist getting into a fight with Peter Forsberg. Forsberg promptly clocked him, keying Quebec’s comeback.

“He just can’t keep his gloves on, can he?” mocked Pepin after the game. “Seems like every game we can get him to fight. Tonight it cost him. Until he learns better we’re just going to keep on doing it- and keep on kicking his (behind).”

Despite being outplayed for two periods, coach Pierre Page liked his team’s performance. “We got the ‘W’, that’s all that matters,” he said after the game. “When you play a team like the Buffalo Sabres, you can’t lose sight of that fact- they’re a great hockey team, and any time you beat them it’s a great accomplishment.”

The Nordiques won’t have too much time to savour their victory, since they must get back into action tomorrow, although a dominant performance like this can buoy the team for a while. For now, they can take solace in the fact that they have Buffalo’s only loss and thus hold the tiebreak atop the East Cup standings- they now just have to keep up their pace.

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