- Linda Cohn, SportsCenter anchor
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Ottawa's Ray Emery against Buffalo's Martin Biron. The netminders' duel was the exclamation point on a bench-clearing brawl that many believe was a turning point in Buffalo's remarkable season. Watching co-captain Chris Drury collapse to the ice after a despicable hit by Ottawa's Chris Neil brought the already tight-knit Sabres even closer together.
So what better player to give some objective perspective on this conference finals series than a player who was at the center of that regular-season storm. Biron himself.
The goalie, who now wears the orange and black of the Philadelphia Flyers, is rooting on his old friends in Buffalo. He had a lot to share once I got him out of his crease, including who he would keep if he was the Sabres' GM: Drury or Daniel Briere?
Question from Linda Cohn: Why did you take on Ray Emery earlier this season before you were traded to Philly?
Answer from Martin Biron: I wanted to help my teammates. This wasn't about hurting anybody. It was about sticking up for each other. We were family. We felt like brothers. I knew Ray loved to fight. Looking at the tape, it showed. I looked like an amateur boxer and he looked like a heavyweight. It looked bad, but I was proud of the fact he never hit me in the face and he connected only once to the back of my head.
Q: You seem to respect Emery.
A: You name it, they were saying it after Ottawa lost to [Buffalo] last season in the playoffs. Senators fans were blaming the loss on the fact Dominik Hasek wasn't there and Emery couldn't come up big in his place. Then, Ray had to deal with the Senators picking up Martin Gerber. Gerber never could grab hold of the No. 1 job because Emery didn't let him. Ray showed me just how mentally strong he was. He could have let all those critics in the offseason distract him, yet his confidence wasn't shaken. He got even better. He should get credit for that and I'm giving it to him.
Q: What's it like playing in Buffalo?
A: Their world revolves around the Sabres. You have to understand, they have been disappointed and left heartbroken so many times in big games. They're so crazy about the team and want to know as much as possible at all times. This morning, I was in the grocery store with my kids. I'm still recognized in Buffalo even though I play for Philly. Yet, Sabres fans kept coming up to me, asking if I have talked to any of the players. "Can they best Ottawa? Will it be five, six or seven games? Can they finally win the Cup?" Oh, talking to anyone who happens to be lucky enough to have a ticket to one of these games -- they're beside themselves about it. Nothing else matters. We players love that kind of reaction.
Q: And with that futility comes a lot of pressure.
A: The pressure is tremendous on the Sabres to win it all this season. Winning the Presidents' Trophy fueled those high expectations. The urgency is there, as well, especially since both co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury are free agents.
Q: Which one of the co-captains would you keep if you were Sabres GM Darcy Regier?
A: [Laughs] Why did I know this question was coming? You have to understand, Linda. I've known Danny for years. He was my roommate. We played midgets and juniors together. We followed the same paths all the way to the NHL. I knew he was going to be a superstar with unreal talent because I had so much trouble stopping him. And then you have Chris. This guy's something else! Not only on the ice, but in the locker room. He just makes everybody step it up because he never lets down. I know this. I couldn't choose. I'm just glad I'm not Regier.
Q: What did you learn from current Sabres No. 1 goalie Ryan Miller?
A: Ryan is such a student of the game. His preparation and his use of video makes him a better goalie. He breaks down the shooter in an effort to know ahead of time where he'll be going with his shot. Ryan would tell me, "This guy likes to go high blocker." Ryan will analyze himself, as well. He'll say, "Look here. See how my blocker is still far ahead when it should be here?" He's a tactician. I learned from Ryan that you just can't depend on your talent alone. You can get an edge by doing your homework as well.
Q: How can Ottawa beat Buffalo?
A: If their captain, Daniel Alfredsson, continues to play out of character. He's been criticized in the past for not lifting his game once the playoffs started. That's not the case anymore. He's been unbelievable, not only scoring, but doing the little things even the superstars have to do come playoff time. He's thrown his body around, and like every leader, has made those around him better.
Q: Can the Sabres beat themselves?
A: By taking too many penalties. It hurt them at times against the Rangers, but it could eliminate them if they do it against this Senators team. Their power play is scary!
Q: So now that you've had some time there, how is it being a Flyer?
A: I wouldn't have signed there if I didn't think GM Paul Holmgren and his staff weren't committed to win. The desire is there by the players, as well. Anyone who watched us down the stretch could see that. I like our young core of guys, but I expect Holmgren to make some important additions, spend some money and get us back in Stanley Cup contention. I don't think it will take as long as many people think."
Q: And how about those Flyers fans?
A: When I came to Philadelphia from Buffalo, I thought I would go unnoticed in the local shopping mall or the supermarket. I was wrong. Flyer fans are die-hard, too. In Buffalo, the Bills are No. 1 and the Sabres are No. 1-A. Same goes in Philly with the Eagles and Flyers. I like that.
Q: There has been talk of the NHL playoff format changing. What do you think of that?
A: Anyone who saw the double-overtime Game 3 between the Sabres and Rangers wouldn't be thinking about the NHL needing to change its playoff format. Keep it the way it is -- it's what hockey is all about. Teams play for hours, maybe five or six periods. The better team usually shines in the end. Let's leave the 4-on-4 overtimes and the shootouts for the regular season.
Hooked on hockey, Linda Cohn is an anchor for ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNEWS. She has been with the network since 1992 and promises a gluttony of glove saves in her weekly column. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sure, Martin Biron is now with the Flyers, but that doesn't mean he can't dish some dirt on the Sabres. He checks in with our Linda Cohn.