About a week ago, I read a post by Puck Daddy highlighting the ten finest NHL games of the last decade. Intensity could be found in a particular contest while another was recognized for its historic moment or unpredictability. My only complaint is the unmentioned match that I can recall like it was yesterday. Whether it involved the Buffalo Sabres or not, I'd label it my favorite hockey game in recent memory.
May 5, 2006: Buffalo had just dispensed the Philadelphia Flyers from the opening round of the postseason in a series that finished with a 7-1 wipe-out. Next, they would take on the Ottawa Senators and it wasn't a predicament many expected the Sabres to survive.
Ottawa finished first in the Eastern Conference with 52 wins and outlasted Buffalo in five of eight season meetings. I'll be honest, I was a bit worried because here was a team that handled the Sabres for the most part rather easily and had 13 players who registered at least 30 points.
But I didn't doubt Buffalo's abilities for a second. As the fourth seed, they weren't pushovers and when others underestimated or took them for granted, Lindy Ruff's troops only fed off it. And the first game of this series would foreshadow the conclusion which was Jason Pominville scoring a shorthanded overtime winner in game five to knock off the Senators.
If you're a fan of stellar goaltending, avert your eyes.
0:35: A puck chipped along the boards finds Derek Roy's stick and with Wade Redden the sole remaining defenseman, he locates Mike Grier all alone at the side of the net for a tap-in. The crowd is stunned at Scotiabank Place less than a minute into the contest and they continued to be as the night progressed.
3:05: To their credit, the Senators didn't waste any time in responding. Dany Heatley enters the zone on the left side and sends a perfect pass to Jason Spezza who was by himself much like Grier on the first goal.
3:20: Anton Volchenkov fires a shot towards the goal which Ryan Miller stops. But Bryan Smolinski see's a rebound before anyone else and tucks it between the legs of the goaltender. Just fifteen seconds following the equalizer, Ottawa appears ready to blow-out Buffalo like they'd done before.
6:56: Roy feeds Teppo Numminen at the blue line and the Finn unloads a one-timer by Ray Emery for a powerplay marker. For the remainder of the frame, the scoring ceased and it was a 2-2 draw heading into the second.
1:47: Christoph Schubert utilizes the two-line pass availability and sends Martin Havlat on a partial break-away. With a slick shift to the backhand, he makes it count propelling Ottawa into another early lead.
3:29: Shorthanded, Tim Connolly dekes Daniel Alfredsson to the ice creating a two-on-one. As Redden attempts to poke the puck off his stick, he drags it underneath and finds a hole between Emery and the post. You have to see this to believe it because it may be Connolly's finest goal.
4:15: On the same man-advantage, Zdeno Chara and Heatley each had a few cracks from in close before the latter finally buried it.
19:30: Henrik Tallinder jumps into the play, grabs a dish from Grier and backhands a lovely pass to Roy who put it into the back of the net instantly. Four goals in the first, four more in the second and nothing is decided yet.
0:16: Havlat's shot attempt is blocked and deflected directly to Mike Fisher who has a gift with Miller in no position to make a stop. Actually, the next 18 minutes or so were quiet but it felt like more excitement was in store.
18:23: Andrej Meszaros pinches in on the power play and misses. As a result, Connolly collects the disc on another two-on-one and this time he waits for Redden to commit to the shooter before feathering a delicate pass over to Roy for a late equalizer. Little did we imagine, it was still far from over.
18:47: Again, Ottawa takes advantage of the power play after allowing a shorthanded tally. Alfredsson with a great presence of mind, finds the open man rather than shooting himself. Smolinski capitalizes flashing a big grin on his face in the process. However, he who laughs last laughs loudest.
19:49: Behind the net, Daniel Briere centers the puck and Emery can't get a handle on the puck as it escapes from the mob for Connolly to backhand top shelf. With 11 seconds left on the clock, these two teams were deadlocked and overtime would settle it.
0:18: Mistakes were made constantly in this match and jumped on each occasion. Goals came in amazing time frames and you didn't expect sudden death to take long. Volchenkov over-skates the puck after fanning on a pass and it introduced an immediate chance. Grier corralled the puck, and fed Chris Drury who was held off the scoresheet in regulation. But his contribution was the ultimate difference as he let go a wrist shot past Emery's blocker to win the game. By the bench, Drury is swarmed by his teammates in celebration.
- 13 goals were scored on 56 combined shots. Ryan Miller faced 33 while Ray Emery was challenged with 23 shots.
- Derek Roy notched five points (two goals, three assists).
- Tim Connolly showcased his talent with two goals and an assist.
- Ten different players scored and 21 registered at least a point.
- Unfortunately, Connolly was injured for the rest of the playoffs after taking an open-ice hit in game two.
- Every game in the series was decided by one goal with three going into overtime. Buffalo prevailed in each of those matches.
What a game and what a postseason for the Buffalo Sabres. Although they fell short in the Conference Finals to Carolina with numerous injuries throughout the line-up, their spirit and competitive nature could not be denied. It's games like this that give fans hope for the future. And hope is never lost among true supporters.