Editor's Note: The post has been updated with videos embedded.
With the Sabres out of the NHL Playoffs this year, but on the rise, I thought I would share a post with DBTB on what I believe to be some of the best and worst moments in Buffalo Sabres playoff history. I will do my best to try and make it more positive than negative, but when you're a Buffalo sports fan, that can sometimes be challenging.
A few things stood out while I was making this list. First, the Philadelphia Flyers have brought a lot of pain and torment to the Sabres organization. Everything from Bernie Parent and the '75 Stanley Cup Finals, and stealing Daniel Briere on July 1, 2007. Oh by the way, the Flyers returned the favor in 2011 when they decided to let Ville Leino walk into free agency, and onto the Sabres roster.
The second thing that stood out about this list, a lot of the highest points in playoff history came under Lindy Ruff as head coach, which to me cements his legacy as the greatest coach in Buffalo Sabres history. I am sure I have omitted quite a few big moments that have slipped my memory, In the end, I ended up with a list of fifteen moments in Sabres playoff history. We will start the list off by going back to the 2007 playoffs, and no it's not the Chris Drury goal. It is the same game however.
#15) Maxim Afinogenov scores in overtime to send Buffalo into game six against the NY Rangers.
This is perhaps the most underrated goal in Sabres playoffs history. This game was best known for the heroics of Chris Drury. Drury scored a huge clutch goal with seconds left in the game to send it to overtime. However, it was Maxim Afinogenov who put the game away and flip the series in favor of Buffalo. The goal wouldn't have meant as much if the Rangers were allowed to win, and probably would have killed the Sabres momentum in the series.
Afinogenov was probably one of the most talented players to ever wear a Sabres jersey, and one of the most lethal skaters in the team's history. No Buffalo Sabres player benefitted more from the post-lockout rule changes at the time than the Russian speedster.
For all of you advocates of how the NHL should call the rules, Maxim Afinogenov is your best example. The new rules allowed Afinogenov to unleash a fury on opposing teams, and his point production nearly doubled. He went from being a 35-40 point player pre-lockout to a near point a game player post-lockout. In '06-'07, he had 61 points, in just 56 games played. And of course when the league went back to not calling the rules, Afinogenov suffered, and his offensive production plummeted.
And in case you're wondering on what happened to Afinogenov, he is still playing hockey at 36 years old in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for Vityaz Podolsk, and is still a respectable player.
#14) Joe Juneau ends the Sabres 1998 playoff run
In Lindy Ruff's first season as head coach, he managed to take the Buffalo Sabres all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Washington Capitals. The Sabres blew past Philadelphia and Montreal, going 8-1 in their first 9 playoff games. They were finally tested when the faced the Washington Capitals, and ran into the hottest goaltender in the playoffs, Olaf Kolzig. They also faced two of the hottest forwards of the playoffs: Joe Juneau, and Adam Oates. In game six, of overtime, it was Joe Juneau who scored the game winning goal putting the Capitals in their first ever Stanley Cup final against the Detroit Red Wings.
Joe Juneau would become a trade deadline acquisition the following season for the Buffalo Sabres, helping them reach the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in almost 25 years.
#13) Miroslav Satan scores in double overtime of game 4 in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
These were very frustrating Sabre teams to watch, and although the Sabres had a successful season, these post-Briere and Drury Sabre teams failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs in the seasons they qualified.
Former Sabre Miroslav Satan would come back to haunt the Sabres, scoring a back breaking double overtime goal in game four, giving Boston a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. Satan would later score the game winning goal in game six, sending Boston to the next round where they would be eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers.
#12) Ville Leino scores the game winning goal in Game 6 of the 2011 Quarterfinals. The Sabres let an early 3-1 lead slip away, and Daniel Briere returns to Buffalo to haunt the Sabres.
The 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs were Terry Pegula's only appearance in the playoffs as the owner of the Sabres. This will change next season of course.
The Sabres started the season with a dismal October and a modest November and December. The Sabres would finish the season strong, and from January to April of the 2011 season they posted a record of 26-10-6. They drew a first round matchup against a familiar foe, the Philadelphia Flyers, led by former Sabre Daniel Briere. The Sabres had a 3-2 series lead over the Flyers, and Lindy Ruff and the Sabres had failed to advanced past round one since 2007, when Briere and Drury departed.
In game six, the Sabres initially had a 3-1 lead after the first period. The game was tied at 3 in the second period with a goal by the one and only Daniel Briere. Nathan Gerbe responded later in the period to make it 4-3 in favor of Buffalo. Scott Hartnell would tie the game in the third period and in overtime, Ville Leino would put the game away, sending the series back to Philadelphia for game seven. Ville Leino would score three goals in this series. This series was also the second time Peter Laviolette beat Lindy Ruff in a game seven. The other time was when Laviolette defeated Ruff in the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Ville Leino would be signed the following offseason by the Sabres, and would go on to only score 10 goals in 136 games as a Sabre. The move would go down as one of the worst signings in free agency by the Buffalo Sabres.
#11) Dominik Hasek throws his blocker at Peter Bondra in game two of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals.
Before Milan Lucic was leveling Ryan Miller, there was Peter Bondra and Dominik Hasek. Another beauty from this series, was the hit from Peter Bondra on Dominik Hasek in game two of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. Peter Bondra spent the entire game looking for ways to get under the Dominator's skin. Late in the game, Hasek came out of his crease to play the puck when Bondra purposely nailed him from behind. Fans at the MCI center in Washington erupted. No penalty was called on the play, at least not on Bondra. Instead, Hasek as tabbed with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from referee Kerry Fraser as Hasek got up and whipped his blocker at Bondra.
This game was one of the wilder games in NHL history, the Sabres managed to tie the game late, but the Capitals would win their first conference finals game in franchise history thanks to a Todd Krygier goal.
#10) John Tucker goes on a tear against the Boston Bruins in the 1988 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After a year where the Sabres bottomed out, and drafted #1 in the 1987 NHL Draft, the Sabres selected Pierre Turgeon and returned to the playoffs after a three year year drought. They drew the Boston Bruins in the division semifinals.
After dropping the first two games, the Sabres found a spark in center John Tucker. John Tucker would go on a rampage, scoring four goals in game three, and in game four, he would score the overtime game winner in a five point performance to tie the series at two games a piece.
Although the Sabres would go on to drop the series to Boston, Tucker would continued to be remembered for his heroics to this day. For me personally, looking back, Tucker is probably one of the most underrated Sabres of all time, but his career was plagued with injuries.
#9) Brian Campbell destroys RJ Umberger
If you're a player in the NHL, it can never be a good thing when fans remember you most for a hit you took in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. RJ Umberger began his career in the NHL in 2005-06, after he had a great college hockey career with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
In Game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Conference Quarterfinals, the Flyers forward was destroyed by then Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell. The hit took place in the middle of the first overtime of the game, when the Flyers were pushing the puck out of their own zone. Umberger's teammate Niko Dimitrakos fed Umberger with a suicide pass up the ice. Campbell proceeded to size up Umberger who had his head down, and capitalized with a clean shoulder check and punishing hit.
The hit is one of the most memorable hits in the history of the entire NHL, and serves almost as a form of nostalgia to this day for Sabres fans who remember those post-lockout teams.
#8) Daniel Briere scores to send the Sabres to Game Seven of the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals.
Few people expected the Sabres to be as good as they became coming out of the '04-05 lockout. The Sabres lost defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, and Miroslav Satan in the offseason, but picked up veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen. As it turned out, the Sabres were well equipped for the post lockout NHL, and many of the Sabres young players also benefited from a year of playing together in the AHL. And of course the season was sparked by goaltender Martin Biron. I would also like to give a huge nod to Martin Biron for his contributions to that memorable season. The Sabres were skidding in November to a 7-8 record until Biron's 15 game win streak. The win streak was making waves around the NHL that year, and really got the Sabres going.
The Sabres were trailing the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2, in their playoff series, and fought to game six at the HSBC arena. The Sabres were tied at 1 with the Hurricanes when Daniel Briere fired a rocket onto the net, blasting a shot past Cam Ward. The Sabres forced game seven and did so with a depleted defense and no Tim Connolly. Looking back, even though they ended up losing this series, it was a valiant effort to push the Hurricanes on the ropes, with an injury depleted roster.
#7) Bernie Parent shuts out Buffalo in Game 6 of the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals, leading Philadelphia to its second Stanley Cup in franchise history.
To this day, if there was one reason why the Buffalo Sabres do not have a Stanley Cup Championship, it is because of Bernie Parent. Between 1973 and 1975, Parent was an astonishing 91-27-22, and was the backbone of the Broadstreet Bullies. Few goaltenders in the history of the NHL had a better back to back, two year run than the Parent. The bumper sticker that went around in Philadelphia at the time was "Only God saves more than Bernie". The Flyers were 10-7-2 in games without Parent over those two seasons.
In the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals, Bernie Parent held Buffalo to just one goal, three times in the series. And in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Bernie Parent shut out the French Connection-led Buffalo Sabres.
#6) The Fog and Bat game, Game 3 of the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals
The fog and bat game would be one of the most legendary games in NHL history. It was an usually hot evening in May of 1975 in Buffalo when the Philadelphia Flyers came to down. The Buffalo Memorial Auditorium did not have air conditioning, and as a result, much of the game was played in dense fog.
At the start of the game a bat was also flying around the arena, getting closer and closer to the ice as the game progressed in the first period. Sabres center Jim Lorentz infamously became the first player in the NHL to kill an animal during a hockey game. The game grew even more bizarre afterwards as the fog began to encase the ice. The fog grew to a point where it was impenetrable. Players could not see the puck, and fans at home could barely see the players on television. Was the game stopped? Oh yeah, but only five times during regulation, nothing major. Several more stoppages occurred in overtime. Did they decide to postpone the game? No way, not in the 70's, they toughed it out and played the game through the limited visibility.
How did this legendary and bizarre game end? The game went into overtime as a 4-4 game. 19 minutes into the overtime period, Rene Robert fired a sharp angle goal onto Bernie Parent. Parent was quoted stating how hard it was to see the puck, and how a good shot from the red line could have won the game.
#5) The Carolina Hurricanes put away the injury depleted Buffalo Sabres (aka Sabres with the Amerks defense) in game seven of the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals.
Going into this series, the Sabres had struggled against the Hurricanes in the regular season dropping three regular season games to the Canes. This series was remembered for how injury depleted the Sabres were, having to rely on many Rochester Americans defenseman such as Jeff Jillson, and Doug Janik. The Sabres had a 2-1 lead into the third period. They let their lead slip away late in the third period after Rod Brind' Amour capitalized on a delay of game penalty to Brian Campbell. The momentum swung the other way, and "Mr. Game Seven", Justin Williams put the game away late with a fourth goal.
A lot of people do not know this fact, but this series also made history as the Buffalo Sabres were the first team to ever play seven home playoff games in a series. The RBC center, now known as the PNC Arena is also known as First Niagara Center #2, or the Sabres alternate home arena. If you know how many transplanted WNY'ers live in Raleigh, you should understand the reference.
#4) It's "May Day!" in Buffalo. The greatest Rick Jeanneret call in Buffalo Sabres history.
There's not a lot of moments on this list from the 1980's and early 90's Sabres. But the '92-'93 season was a memorable one for a few reasons. It was the year Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny. exploded offensively. LaFontaine scored a team record 148 points, and Alexander Mogilny scored a team record that may never be broken with 76 goals. This was also the year that the Sabres acquired Domink Hasek from the Chicago Blackhawks, and traded Dave Andreychuk to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Grant Fuhr.
This season was also memorable for the Brad May game winning overtime goal from the 1993 NHL Playoffs. After five straight eliminations in the division semifinals, three of which came against the Boston Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres finally advanced in the playoffs. The Sabres completed a four game sweep of the Bruins. The sweep was capitalized when Brad May scored an overtime goal in game four leading to one of Rick Jeanneret's most legendary calls: "May Day! May Day! May Day!"
#3) Jason Woolley fires the shot heard round the world against the Dallas Stars in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals.
This goal is another underrated goal in Sabres history. The significance of the goal is that it is the only time the Buffalo Sabres have ever lead a Stanley Cup Playoff Series in the twelve finals games they've played between the 1975, and 1999 Sabres seasons. It was likely the highest point of fan euphoria having your team: beating the best team in the league, the Dallas Stars on the road in their own arena. They got off to a great start on the series.
Curtis Brown was heavily involved on this play. In this goal, Brown carried the puck into Dallas territory, dumped the puck in, managed to keep it in play, and then dished out a nice pass to Jason Wooley who fired a rocket past Ed Belfour to give the Sabres a 1-0 Series lead over Dallas.
It's more of a personal favorite of mine, and is probably a lot higher on this list than it should be.
#2) Brett Hull, No Goal, 1999 Stanley Cup Finals Game Six.
This was a very significant moment in Sabres history, and honestly it is probably the most significant moment in playoff history. It should be #1, but there was no way I was putting a negative moment at the top of my list, so I'm admittedly a little biased. I also would like to add that it was not really a goal and Frank Wycheck did throw a forward pass to Kevin Dyson in the NFL playoffs that same year in 1999.
The 1999 Dallas Stars team was no easy matchup for the Buffalo Sabres. They were the President's trophy winners from that season, and were a brutal team defensively, allowing a league low, 168 goals. This is typical of many Ken Hitchcock coached teams. They were also more than capable of scoring goals with players such as: Mike Modano, Joe Nieuwendyk, Jere Lethinen, Pat Verbeek, and of course Brett Hull. Say what you want about the '98-'99 Stars, they were a Stanley Cup worthy hockey club, they did deserve the cup. But many would have preferred it in cleaner fashion.
If you're not familar with the "no goal" incident, In game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, The Sabres down 3-2 in the series to the Stars, battled them to a 1-1 tie through three periods of regulation, and two periods of overtime. In the third overtime, Brett Hull scored the game winning goal in the third overtime of the game. Brett Hull's skate was visibly in the crease when he scored the goal. The sequence of the goal was: Hull shoots, Hasek saves resulting in a rebound, the rebound which bounces outside the crease. Hull then kicked the puck forward to his stick, and but as he is kicking the puck, his left skate slides into the crease. Hull shoots the puck again, and scores the game winner.
To this day, fans, players, writers, and coaches debate on if the goal was legal. There will never be an explanation that satisfies everyone. All I will say on the subject is during the 1998-99 NHL season, goals very similar to Hull's would have been disallowed. Considering all the evidence, the league blew the call and then scrambled like hell to cover it's behind.
Unfortunately officiating errors are a part of all sports, not just hockey, and the Sabres found themselves on the wrong side of this one.
#1) Chris Drury scores game tying goal with 7 seconds left, in game five of the 2007 NHL playoffs, preventing a 3-2 series lead for the Rangers.
This goal is one of the most clutch goals in Sabres history. Actually, it is the most clutch goal in Sabres history. A lot of fans forget, that the offseason that Chris Drury was acquired in a trade with Calgary, that people wanted Todd Marchant. We certainly dodged that bullet. Drury was always known for scoring big goals throughout his career, and had a Stanley Cup ring to his resume. He was the perfect captain to lead that young Sabres group.
Chris Drury came up huge when it mattered most. He won the draw against Michael Nylander, and if you go back and watch that entire play, Drury was literally everywhere the puck was, for almost every second of that play, and when your favorite team is in this situation, you hope and pray to the hockey gods for a goal like this. For those who were watching that night, you got more than you could have asked for.
This goal was also evidence of how incompetent of a management group the Sabres had at the time. Although I'm thankful Tom Golisano bought the Sabres and saved them, Did you guys not realize at the time that you had to pay Drury and Briere?
If you have any moments you can remember that I left off the list, please share.
Update: I know one goal I initially left out was Pominville's OT winner vs Ottawa. That is definitely top five for sure. Many others have mentioned some great moments in the comments.