Doug Pagano plans to watch the game from the comfort of his Town of Tonawanda home, with friends and neighbors.

Paul F. Jones of Buffalo expects to watch it on the outdoor patio of a downtown watering hole, with the same people he sits with in HSBC Arena.

And Lisa Blas of Pendleton, armed with her ever-present "Dream and Believe" sign, is going straight to the scene, hopping on a plane today with her husband, Michael, to see Game Seven of the Buffalo Sabres-Carolina Hurricanes series.

"I want to see the Sabres win the Eastern Conference championship, so I'm going to Carolina," Blas said Wednesday. "They've won all the other series on the road, so I have to be there to see it."

At least a quarter of a million local residents are expected to find some way to watch tonight's showdown, with the winner punching a ticket to the Stanley Cup finals.

Sabres fans can choose from the communal feeling of a sports bar, the intimacy of a corner tavern or the comforts of their own living room couch and personally stocked refrigerator.

Those who opt for the communal approach, though, have to find a new venue tonight. Dunn Tire Park will be occupied by the Bisons game with the Durham Bulls.

As people hunker down to watch Game Seven, many described these games as a white-knuckle experience, especially after the last two games went to sudden-death overtime.

"It's very intense and nerve-racking," said Pagano, 51, who works in accounts payable at Delaware North Cos. "I've followed the Sabres since their inception. We've been through a lot of finger-chewing and knuckle-biting. You can't even go to the bathroom, because you never know what you're going to miss."

Blas said that "to tell you the truth, the Sabres have touched on every single emotion you can go through. You're angry, you're ecstatic, you're euphoric and you have a pit in your stomach at times."

Some find the games a bit too much, including Greta L. Williams, an attorney with Damon & Morey.

"My husband, Steve, and I love the Sabres so much that we record every game on our DVR," she said. "It is painful to watch the games in real time, so we frequently watch the game after it is over, [when] we know whether the Sabres have won or lost."

No one knows for sure, but there's a feeling that the community has poured more of its emotions into this Sabres playoff drive than during the 1999 run to the Stanley Cup finals.

"My sense is the fever in 1999 was huge, but it didn't start until we got into the Toronto series or after the Toronto series [in the Eastern Conference finals]," said Michael M. Gilbert, the Sabres' public relations director. "This year, I sensed it happening after we won the first two games in Ottawa. I think it started earlier, and it's been more intense."

Some, though, question the intensity issue.

Jones, a Buffalo attorney, has been to every home playoff game. While he remains a huge fan, he doesn't find the games as intense as in 1999.

"I find it less nerve-racking, because the expectations [this year] were so low," he said. "Once they got out of the first round, I think everything past that has been a bonus. Heck, nobody expected them to be in the playoffs."

Few have enjoyed the playoff ride more than Blas, the 37-year-old Pendleton woman with the "Dream and Believe" sign. The owner of Advantage Physical Therapy, she and her family already have sold 600 "Dream and Believe" T-shirts for $10 apiece, with all $6,000 going to the American Cancer Society.

Why is she so fired up about this playoff run?

"We all can relate to this team," she said. "The players are everyday, average guys. Nobody is standing out in a crowd. There are no superstars, and you hear them say, 'We [not I] did this, and we did that.' "