When was the last time Buffalo Sabres fans were genuinely sad to see the team’s season come to an end? It feels like... it’s been a while, right? But that’s the sentiment we’re all left with following Friday’s season finale OT win over the Chicago Blackhawks. While this season certainly had its up and downs, its highs and lows, its surprises - good and bad, in the end, what came out of it was a truly special group of players that helped revive the city of Buffalo’s love of hockey.
The energy around this team became palpable as the season went on. You could feel it in the crowds at KeyBank Center - the fans truly on the edge of their seats, emotional when a goal went in and emotional when it didn’t. You could feel it in the players’ post-game interviews when they spoke about coming together as a team, and when head coach Don Granato spoke about things that went well, but also things that could’ve gone better - never settling for not quite good enough.
I watched Friday’s finale from the comfort of my couch, box of tissues in hand for the RJ tribute we all knew was coming. What that game provided, though, was so much more than I could’ve dreamt, from start to finish.
From Sabres players wearing special RJ-themed Skate Skins to the RJ tribute video to Kyle Okposo winning the Rick Martin Memorial Award, to Malcolm Subban singing the US national anthem (and absolutely crushing it!), the night was already top-notch before the puck had even dropped.
Then, we saw that Josh Allen, Dawson Knox and a whole bunch of Buffalo Bills players were in a suite, joined by the team’s newest draft pick Kaiir Elam, fueling the energy in the crowd and bringing the vibes up to another level.
The game on the ice wasn’t perfect, but it somehow seemed fitting that Buffalo got it to overtime and gave us those extra few precious moments of Rick Jeanneret’s voices, and one more OTGWG call. Thank goodness the Sabres won and gave RJ the proper sendoff he deserves.
The post-game was special too, though. From the MSG broadcast showing RJ’s final thank you messages and Brian Duff & Marty Biron cracking open a beer in honor of the big guy, to the video replaying in the arena to a good crowd who’d stuck around, along with all the players on the ice and Dahlin & Girgensons escorting RJ out onto the ice; even at home, you could feel the energy and the emotion. No one wanted this season to end, but pretty much every aspect of Friday night was the perfect ending, if it had to end.
There’s so much to be said about this season and the Buffalo Sabres, and you’ll no doubt get to read some more thoughts about it here at Die By the Blade from myself and others. I want to talk about how incredible Tage Thompson’s season was, and how Alex Tuch has brought such a special energy to the whole team environment. I want to read about Jeff Skinner getting back to a high level of hockey and Rasmus Dahlin really finding himself.
I’ve been watching the Sabres for almost 25 years, but this team, especially at season’s end feels so special, so impactful, reminding us all why we love this sport and this organization. As I said on Friday night, there are so many emotions and no words for these moments. It’s the end of what turned out to be one heck of a season for the Sabres, and the end of an era with RJ’s last call.
The only words that feel right: Let’s Go Buffalo.