The 40th Anniversary Celebration Continues Into The Playoffs
Hey, I'm Philip and I'm the guy behind the Sabres blog Black & Blue & Gold. I'll be blogging here about the Sabres through the playoffs, starting with the quarterfinal series against the Flyers. But first, how about that 2010/2011 season?
It was the worst of times...
Expectations were high for the Sabres and their 40th anniversary in the 2010/2011 season despite the first-round upset at the hand of the Bruins last spring. They had won the Northeast Division, newly-minted Vezina Award-winner Ryan Miller nearly led Team USA to a gold medal during the Vancouver games, and fans around Buffalo were still buzzing about Tyler Myers' Calder Trophy-winning rookie season.
Opening night versus the Ottawa Senators seemed to reinforce the expectations when Derek Roy provided all the offense in a 2-1 Sabres victory over their hated rivals. What followed wasn't in anybody's plans as the Sabres stumbled to a 3-7-2 record in the first month of the season. Their struggles continued through November as the Sabres fell to 9-13-3 through two months. November ended on a strange note, with rumors of a buyer for the Sabres emerging.
December was much of the same for Sabres fans, but late in the month - again - stories about Terry Pegula's drive to buy the Sabres surfaced. It suddenly drowned out the doom and gloom that was engendered by losing then leading scorer Derek Roy for the season to a knee injury in a loss to the Panthers right before Christmas. Miller had begun the season injured and looked pedestrian, Myers was going through the feared sophomore slump, and many of the team's go-to skaters were invisible night in and night out. Despite rumors of a sale, things just didn't look good as the calendar year of 2010 ended with a record of 15-18-4.
...It was the best of times
The Sabres opened the 2011 calendar year by winning 8 of 12 games in January, seemingly emboldened by the growing number of Pegula rumors that were published daily. February began with
the announcement that Tom Golisano entered into an agreement with Pegula to sell the team to the natural gas billionaire. The Sabres went 5-5 between the announcement of sale and Pegula's introductory press conference. What followed is legendary.
Beginning with the Thrashers' visit to HSBC Arena on Feb. 23, the Sabres would amass the Eastern Conference's best record (17-4-4). That surge helped them toward having the best record in the NHL since Jan. 1 (28-11-6). In the end, that shocking improvement is what secured the at-one-time last in the Eastern Conference Sabres the 7th seed in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs and a date versus their bitter playoff rival the Flyers.
It's been an entirely different feeling around Buffalo since Terry Pegula told the Sabres faithful "Winning is not a goal, it's a belief." Nathan Gerbe emerged as a legitimate NHLer, Thomas Vanek stepped up to become the team's leader, Tyler Myers worked through his issues to return to form, and the team didn't fold up when it came out that Ryan Miller had an injury and Jhonas Enroth took over as the team's starter. Pegula set up a Kool-Aid stand at One Seymour H. Knox III Plaza and the team, alumni, and fans were drinking up. The Kool-Aid stand will stay open for business now that the Sabres have punched their ticket to the second season.
Sabres vs Flyers - Four Decades Of Playoff History
It began in 1975 when Bernie Parent stymied the Sabres' high-flying attack led by the French Connection in the Stanley Cup Finals. Then in 1978, the Broad Street Bullies eliminated the Sabres in the opening round of the playoffs. The Flyers were the villains again dring the quarterfinals in 1995 and then again in the 1997 semifinals. The Sabres would snap their four-series slump against the Flyers in the 1998 quarterfinals, winning the series 4-1 on the shoulders of Dominic Hasek. They would drop a quarterfinal series a couple of years later during the 2000 Stanley Cup playoffs to their long-time rivals but would redeem themselves in the 2001 postseason with a series-clinching 8-0 rout in the quarterfinals. The teams wouldn't meet again in the spring until the lockout ended.
It was the 2006 quarterfinal series between the 4th seed Sabres and 5th seed Flyers that produced two of the most memorable games in Sabres playoff history. In game one, Brian Campbell demolished RJ Umberger with a thundering open-ice hit that will be remembered by Sabres fans forever. The next game, the Flyers were so busy trying to pummel the Sabres in response to the Campbell hit that they allowed the Sabres to put up 8 goals against them again. This time, veteran JP Dumont and youngster Jason Pominville both recorded hat tricks. The series ended in Philadelphia when the Sabres won game 6 with a 7-1 final score. This was the last time the Sabres played the Flyers in the playoffs.
The Flyers may be the higher-seeded team this series, but after limping into the playoffs winless in their last five games, pundits have been quick to warn of a possible Sabres upset. Buffalo is entering the post-season with an 8-1-1 record in their last ten games and have a stable of incredibly hot scorers, gelling defensemen, and their star goaltender in top form. It's going to take all of that and more to defeat the deep, talented, gritty Flyers. The X-factors in this series will be the tested veteran goaltending of Ryan Miller versus the green rookie netminding of Sergei Bobrovsky, as well as if Thomas Vanek can lead the Sabres offense this spring as he looked to do last spring before being taken out by the Bruins.
I'll post a preview of each series and after every game for 92.9 Jack FM