on January 13, 2013 - 12:55 AM
The NHL playoff races figure to be decided by a razor-thin margin during the shortened 48-game season. If things come down to a late-season rush for the Buffalo Sabres, they’ll have the benefit of home crowds to carry them to the end.
The Sabres finally were able to release their 2013 schedule late Saturday night after a long wait for the NHL and its players’ association to complete a memorandum of understanding to formally end the lockout. The Eastern Conference-only slate features 11 games on Sundays, including seven in First Niagara Center. The first is the season opener at 12:30 p.m. next Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Sabres begin the year at home and end it with a flurry at the foot of Washington Street. Ten of the final 14 games are in Buffalo, including the season finale April 26 against the New York Islanders.
Though the Sabres have just nine sets of back-to-back games after specializing in them the previous three seasons, they should get ready for a hectic pace. They play seven games in 11 days in January and follow that with 14 games in 28 days in February. There’s little time to breathe in March with 15 games in 31 days, and they play 12 times during the first 26 days of April.
The Sabres will be busiest on Tuesdays and Sundays with 11 games each. They will play nine times on Thursdays and Saturdays. All five of their Friday night games will be at home. Buffalo will also play twice on Mondays and once on Wednesday.
The 48-game season has resulted in an unbalanced schedule. The Sabres will play two Northeast Division rivals five times (Boston and Montreal), and they will face the other two (Toronto and Ottawa) four times. The Sabres will visit Boston twice and Montreal three times, while the other two series are split at two home games per team.
The Sabres will face the other 10 conference opponents three times each. They will visit Carolina, Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida and Pittsburgh twice. Philadelphia, New Jersey, Winnipeg, the New York Rangers and New York Islanders will come to Buffalo twice.
The Sabres’ longest road trip is four games from March 3-10 and features visits to the Rangers, Carolina, New Jersey and Philadelphia. The Sabres have two three-game homestands. The first is Feb. 15-19 and includes appearances by the Bruins, Penguins and Jets. Buffalo welcomes Montreal, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay for a three-game run April 11-14.
The Sabres will make nine national television appearances in the United States, including two on NBC (next Sunday against Philadelphia and 12:30 p.m. Feb. 17 against Pittsburgh). They will play seven times on NBC Sports Network.
In conjunction with the schedule, the Sabres also announced their variable pricing ticket plan. They will have five Gold games, 15 Silver, one Bronze and three Value games.
The single-game prices will range from $64 to $185 for Gold, $53 to $146 for Silver, $39 to $127 for Bronze and $29 to $113 for Value. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the arena box office and Tickets.com.
The NHL and NHLPA association have insisted they wanted to put the lockout behind them. They needed it to officially end first, and it took an inordinate amount of time.
Lawyers for both sides continued to work on the memorandum of understanding well into the night Saturday. Teams were unable to sign players, make trades or release schedules until the document was signed, so the 2012-13 lockout dragged on toward a slow, agonizing demise nearly a week after it unofficially ended.
The memorandum is a written framework of the collective bargaining agreement the sides tentatively agreed to last Sunday. The owners ratified the CBA, 30-0, Wednesday, and the union answered with overwhelming approval Saturday. During a two-day process, the players voted, 667-12, in favor of the deal. Eleven percent (84 of the 763 members) abstained. The season will begin Saturday with 13 games featuring 26 of the league’s 30 teams.