News | 9/8/2013 10:31:59 PM | Chris Ryndak - Sabres.com
TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. – The Buffalo Sabres' squad of prospects held off another third-period rally in the NHL Prospects Tournament and now find themselves one win closer to becoming back-to-back champions.
The Sabres defeated the Carolina Hurricanes prospects 7-4 at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City, Mich. on Sunday and will face the host Detroit Red Wings in the championship game Monday at 7:30 p.m. The Red Wings have never won the title in the tournament’s 14-year history.
Buffalo defeated the New York Rangers to win it all in 2011, the last time the tournament was held.
Five Sabres had a multi-point night against Carolina and they were led by the top line of left wing Zemgus Girgensons, center Johan Larsson and right wing Joel Armia. Girgensons finished with a goal and two assists while Larsson recorded a goal and a helper.
“It probably hasn’t shown up on the score sheet as much as they would like to have, but they control the game for us in both ends of the rink,” coach Chadd Cassidy said of Girgensons and Larsson. “Whenever we get into trouble, they’re the guys you send out there that can kind of steady the ship a little bit. It was great that they could get some reward for that.” Larsson and Gigrensons have also been key penalty killers during this tournament. However, Buffalo has struggled with that aspect of special teams play so far. The Hurricanes scored three goals with the man advantage in the second period to cut Buffalo’s 4-0 lead to 4-3.
Friday night, the Rangers used their power play to battle back from a three-goal deficit and tie the game late against the Sabres. Buffalo eventually won that game in overtime.
Cassidy became more selective in which players he chose to put out on the penalty kill after those Hurricanes goals and the Sabres killed off the two Carolina power play opportunities in the third period.
“If you take three stupid penalties then they get back in the game,” Larsson said. “So we definitely have to think about that [for Monday]. The Red Wings are going to be better, I think.”
Armia has yet to score in the tournament, but coach Chadd Cassidy hopes to see him on the score sheet soon.
“He’s gotta get heated up. If we’re going to be successful [on Monday], he’s probably going to be a big part of that,” Cassidy said.
Buffalo’s second line has been red-hot and has allievated some pressure from other players who may not be putting the puck in the net just yet. Daniel Catenacci picked up a pair of assists and Nicholas Baptiste extended his point-streak to three games. Baptiste had a goal and two assists. He’s scored in all three games in the tournament.
Their linemate Eric Locke also had a goal and an assist. Locke’s goal with 7:27 left in the second ended the Carolina rally and gave Buffalo some much-needed breathing space.
Defenseman Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, right wing Justin Bailey and left wing Peter Trainor also scored for Buffalo.
The defense played without captain Chad Ruhwedel, who is day-to-day with an upper body injury. Larsson wore the “C” in his stead on Sunday. Gauthier-Leduc served as an alternate and stepped up in a big way for the team, sliding into Ruhwedel’s spot on the blue line alongside Brady Austin.
“I thought [Gauthier-Leduc] was outstanding,” Cassidy said. “He was a physical presence, which is something that he’s added into his game. Obviously he had a great goal there. We really saw a lot of leadership from him tonight in terms of how we wanted the other guys to play.”
Gauthier-Leduc said after the game he didn’t feel any added pressure to play a bigger role with Ruhwedel out.
“We’ve got a good D corps and I think they all played pretty well,” Gauthier-Leduc said.
Brock McGinn scored twice for Carolina. Trevor Carrick and Sergey Tolchinsky had the other goals. Daniel Altshuller stopped 28 shots.
Connor Knapp started in goal for Buffalo and made 26 saves. Cassidy has not yet decided which of the team’s three goaltenders will start against Detroit. Nathan Lieuwen and Andrey Makarov won in their starts as well. Lieuwen was the winning goaltender in the 2011 championship game.
The Sabres can now focus on the championship game Monday night and on the prospects of celebrating with the trophy again.
“We came here and we talked about winning and now we’re in the finals. Of course we’re going for it,” Larsson said. “But I know the Red Wings are good and this is their barn here, so it would be fun to go out there and take the title.”
The championship game can be heard live on 1520 AM and at Sabres.com. Face off is at 7:30 p.m.
First Period 1-0 Buffalo Sabres - JOHAN LARSSON (power play) (ZEMGUS GIRGENSONS) 9:02 2-0 Buffalo Sabres - JEROME GAUTHIER-LEDUC (ZEMGUS GIRGENSONS) 10:12 3-0 Buffalo Sabres - NICHOLAS BAPTISTE (DANIEL CATENACCI, ERIC LOCKE) 11:43