Favorite Moments as a Sabres Fan

<em>Times when the Team Made It All Worthwhile </em>

It isn’t always easy to be a Buffalo Sabres fan. The franchise has the longest playoff drought of any NHL team, and ties with the Vancouver Canucks for the second longest period of time any hockey organization has gone without a Stanley Cup win. With stats like those, it’s hard to keep going. Rooting for the Blue and Gold is often like being a pre-2016 Chicago Cubs fan or a Boston Red Sox supporter before 2004.

After years and decades of disappointments and crushed hopes, it’s helpful to look at those instances when the Sabres showed glimpses of greatness. While those of us in Sabre fandom wait to see if “this could be the year,” let’s revisit some of those magical moments when Buffalo was at its best. These are mine:

1.   Sabres vs. Rangers Game 5, Eastern Conference Semifinals, May 4, 2007

The Sabres had battled against the Rangers and their seemingly impenetrable goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, all through the game. The contest was scoreless until late in the 3rd period, when New York center Martin Straka made it 1-0 Rangers. It looked like the visitors would win in a shutout. With 7.8 seconds left, Chris Drury got the tying goal past Lundqvist to force an OT.

The arena erupted. Fans in living rooms, bars, restaurants and anywhere else that carried the game in Western New York exploded in joy. RJ turned Drury’s last name into a multi-syllable expression, as Chris Druuuurrry made the Rangers stay in the building.

The Sabres were elated and the Rangers deflated, but it wasn’t over yet. During OT, it once again looked like Lundqvist would block any further Buffalo goals. The refs called Drury for hooking, but the visitors couldn’t capitalize on it. Then New York center Blair Betts had to sit in the box. 4:39 into the first overtime period, Sabres forward Maxim Afinogenov fired a lucky bounce from just inside the blue line past Lundqvist’s pads.

2.Sabres vs. Flyers Game 2, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Apr. 24, 2006

I remember going to the game at HSBC Arena and seeing a sea of Sabres jerseys, hats and team colors. A few Flyers fans somehow managed to buy tickets and even more audaciously, show their faces in downtown Buffalo. Nobody really hassled them, at first.

The Sabres scored twice on their first three shots on goal and brought the sellout crowd to its feet. Then, amazingly, they kept scoring. It seemed like every time fans sat down after the latest Buffalo goal, the horn sounded, lights flashed and everyone stood up again. At the end of the first period, it was 5-0 Sabres. When the few Flyers fans who had dared to attend left their seats, they were greeted with a chorus of boos, catcalls and colorful taunts.

Buffalo won 8-2, while Philadelphia got hit with 17 penalties. Head coach Lindy Ruff said about the visitors, “the more they acted like idiots, the more we wanted to play.” Forwards J.P. Dumont and Jason Pominville both had a hat trick. By the time the game was over, thousands of happy fans headed into the spring night, not a Flyers jersey among them.

3.NHL Heritage Classic, Mar. 13, 2022

Die By the Blade has covered this game in more than one post, including one by yours truly. However, it bears repeating that this matchup showed the Sabres and the rest of the hockey world, that they can beat any team when they set their mind to it. The Blue and Gold also proved that when anyone underestimates them, they do so at their peril.

Not only did the Sabres have to suffer the humiliation of losing the first ever NHL Winter Classic in 2008, the team fell short again 10 years later, when they faced the New York Rangers at Citi Field, home of the Mets. Beating the Leafs 5-2 in front of an unwelcoming crowd, biased media and opponents who felt they should win, because, well, “they’re the Toronto Maple Leafs,” was a long time coming.

Dylan Cozens’ retaliatory hit on Auston Matthews got a lot of press, but Sabres newcomer Peyton Krebs’ goal to tie the game and change its momentum was just as noteworthy:

4.  Sabres vs. Leafs Eastern Conference Final, May 1999

The Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs seem to be part of a winning/losing yin and yang. When one team does well, the other tanks and vice versa. The only time both franchises met each other in the postseason was during the Sabres’ second shot at the Stanley Cup, in 1999.

Before the disappointment of No Goal, there was a five-game series between the two teams, which Buffalo won, four games to one. While there were many memorable moments, the best of the bunch was Game 4. During the 2nd period, the Sabres netted three goals in less than three minutes. Toronto never recovered, and the two rivals haven’t faced each other in a playoff series since.

As a lifelong Sabres fan, these are a few of my favorite moments. What are some of yours?