Buffalo, it is official: The Sabres have reached the post-season for the second year in a row. Fortunately for the fans, this glorious event took place with a sizable amount of drama. Not only was Friday the final home game of the regular season, it was also fan-appreciation night.
Thanks to the Sabres' wonderful new owner, Terry Pegula, more than 80 members of the Sabres alumni showed up to walk the red carpet outside HSBC Arena before the game. Among those in attendance were Gilbert Perrault, Gerry Desjardins, Danny Gare, Jim Lorentz and Teppo Numminen. Hundreds of fans surrounded the makeshift runway to get memorabilia signed. It was fan paradise. The event had a very personal atmosphere, and it was easy for fans to have short but meaningful conversations with the alumni.
For those lucky enough to have tickets to the game, it was truly a sight to behold. Everyone in the arena, including the players, seemed a bit apprehensive going into the game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Still, the game had to be played, and boy did it get played.
A quick ceremony with the alumni before the game was enough to get the fans ready for battle. With Buffalo unable to establish a lead, it was a stressful back and forth as far as scoring goes. A stunning backhand from Nathan Gerbe tied the game at 3 halfway through the third period. The last minute of regulation was spent in the Sabres end as the players wistfully ran down the clock, securing their spot in the playoffs.
The crowd was on its feet at that point. The fans' enthusiasm was soon matched by Thomas Vanek as he scored in overtime, winning the game and launching the Sabres into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. In the words of announcer Rick Jeanneret, "If that isn't icing on the cake, I don't know what is."
The Sabres' win Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, which ended in an equally dramatic fashion, secured Buffalo's seventh-place spot, making their first-round challengers the Philadelphia Flyers. It will certainly be an even match up. Although the Pittsburgh Penguins would have made an easier match-up (since stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both out with injuries), playing the Flyers will make for a very exciting first round.
Keep the belief alive, Buffalo.
Danielle Grimm is a sophomore at Clarence High School.