Sabres owner Terry Pegula talks about his big offseason, high hopes, and no pressure

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With the kind of spending the Buffalo Sabres did this offseason, you’d imagine that the stakes are sky high in Buffalo this year. After all when you drop the kind of cash owner Terry Pegula did to land guys like Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff as well as dealing for former Calgary hard-hitter Robyn Regehr the expectations on the season are going to be lofty.

Pegula finally spoke about his big spending ways and the excitement that’s generated in Buffalo this season and for the future of the team in western New York. The Buffalo News’ Bucky Gleason has a great piece on Pegula today in which Pegula makes it clear that he’s not the kind of ruthless owner that’s going to rain fire and brimstone down on everyone should things get off to a slow start.

While Pegula might spend like his name was Steinbrenner, he’s not about to act like him either.

“If we come out of the chute 0-9 this year, everybody is going to be going skitzoid,” Pegula said. “But you gotta believe you’re not an 0-9 team, and it will get better. You can’t have the Sword of Damocles hanging over the players, coaches and everybody’s head. You have to stick with the team.”

The Sabres aren’t going to start the season as the NHL’s best team. They don’t have overwhelming talent, the most depth or even the top goaltender. Just know that they aren’t far away, either. They will enter the season just as capable of winning it all as any other team.

Hey, why not this year?

Rather than shying away from the goal, or fearing the goal, the Sabres are following their leaders and embracing the goal. Pegula hasn’t backed off an inch. In fact, it’s been the contrary. The Sabres are inching, if not leaping, toward becoming one of the top teams in the league.

“I’ve heard some comments, ‘It’s time to put up or shut up. You say you want to win and all this stuff,'” Pegula said. “Well, isn’t that why every team should exist? I don’t think we’re special. Everybody, and I don’t care what sport you’re in, you’re supposed to do your best to try to win.”

Amen, Terry.

The amount of good-natured sensibility that comes out of Pegula makes him, perhaps, the most likable owner in pro sports. This is a guy who went to the World Junior Hockey Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid just a couple weeks ago so that he, coach Lindy Ruff, general manager Darcy Regier and the team’s scouts could watch the one player they’ve drafted (2011 first round pick Joel Armia of Finland) at the camp. Giving his guys a vacation in the Adirondacks made for a nice bonus as well, but bringing that kind of workforce out to watch just one player shows how important this whole thing is for them.

That brand of hands-on commitment from an owner is practically unheard of in these days when you see faceless ownership groups buying or owning teams. Seeing it come without the instant pressure on everyone to win right out of the gate (at least from Pegula) seems crazy as well.

Pegulamania is running wild in Buffalo and the brand of infectious, good-natured feelings that go along with it can’t help but make you hope that it can bring the Sabres and the city of Buffalo a lot of good things in the future.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.