May 4th, 2007
Shots on Goal: NYR - 23, BUF - 40
NYR Goal Scorers: Martin Straka (2)
BUF Goal Scorers: Chris Drury (6), Maxim Afinogenov (2)
Plus-1: Captain Clutch!
On a team full of clutch performers during the 2006-07 season, Chris Drury has been the most consistent scorer in important situations. With 37 tallies during the regular season (nine of which were game-winners), when the team needs a key draw or a last-minute goal, time and time again, Lindy Ruff has looked toward his captain.
Tonight, in the waning moments of the third period, down 1-0, the Sabres needed both. After battling for possession off the dot in the Rangers’ end, Drury got himself into prime scoring position, sending the game to overtime for his sixth goal of the postseason.
While Buffalo certainly carries the momentum into Game Six, there is work left to be done if the Sabres intend to qualify for the Eastern Conference Final in consecutive years. The good news is, no matter what the situation, this team has proven time and time again that they’re never out of a game.
Plus-2: Getting Shots Through
When you’re going up against an elite goaltender like Henrik Lundqvist, sometimes you just need to get as many shots on net as possible. That was the case tonight as the Sabres out-shot their opponents on a near 2:1 ratio.
It almost wasn’t enough.
Fortunately, Ryan Miller was also up to the task tonight, stopping 22 of the 23 shots he faced. Still, the Rangers will go as far as Lundqvist takes them. If he can continue to play like he did tonight, the Sabres need to make sure they win the shot battle. Should he falter however, it’s clear that Buffalo has the superior group of skaters, arguably the best in the NHL, making Lundqvist’s 105 stops on the Sabres’ last 109 attempts all the more impressive.
The same can be said for Miller. While he hasn’t faced nearly the same amount of chances as his Swedish contemporary, his performance has been critical for a team who has struggled to score goals against New York.
Plus-3: The Arena
This is supposed to be a mock-recap of a past game, but I need to step into present day for a moment. Even on the broadcast the energy, enthusiasm, and anticipation in that crowd at HSBC Arena was palpable. The fans were loud, the plaza was packed, and times were good.
When is the last time the arena sounded or felt like anything close to that atmosphere? Two name changes ago? The Sabres of that era aren’t just about skill and depth, but they bring us back to a day where watching hockey was the thing to do, not a habitual chore.
For a city that constantly tops television ratings during the playoffs despite the team never appearing in them, it sure would be fun to see how these dormant, yet passionate, fans would reemerge, were a team of that caliber to take foot once more.
Conclusion: Classic Moments
There is a fine line between “memorable” and “classic”. Drury’s equalizing goal and Afinogenov’s game-winner (including his subsequent celebratory dive at center ice), represent two of the most iconic moments in franchise history.
From 2005-2007, the Sabres provided a handful of these moments. Pominville’s series-clinching shorthanded goal against the Ottawa Senators, Brian Campbell’s hit on R.J. Umberger, and the two goals tonight are what that forge fanhoods. That’s why, despite the result of the 2007 NHL playoffs, fans in Western New York still hold those teams in the highest regard.