I've been waiting for this game since the Sabres dropped Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the RBC Center in North Carolina last summer.
Little did I know I would BE at this game.
I gambled a bit and bought my first ever Mini Pack last August, with the assumption that the Sabres would be back and have another great season. More than anything, it was good for convenience purposes. I had these tickets far in advance, all paid for, and I knew the exact dates I'd be going to the games.
Turned out to be a great move. It guaranteed me a shot at playoff tickets before the general public (how I got to go tonight). But there was even more than that...Watching this UNBELIEVABLE season, and getting to see some amazing games including two wins over Carolina, a 4-3 shootout victory over Vancouver, and perhaps most sensationally the 5-4 shootout win over Montreal in our season's home opener (after trailed 4-2 late, and Max Afinogenov tied the score with 13 seconds left in regulation). Now the playoffs....wow....
Tonight was my first ever playoff game. I'll tell you, I'm going to remember this, and those other games I went to this season, for a loong time. This one was unbelievable. WHAT AN ATMOSPHERE; WHAT A GAME!
The Sabres dominated at the start, outshooting the Isles 11-1. But the key was puck control. Great forechecking, and backchecking, keeping the opposition as far away from Ryan Miller as possible (particularly when they were in our zone), and all around great play from all four lines Lindy Ruff rolled throughout the first period and throughout the night.
We only led 1-0 after one though. I told my sister, who I went to the game with, this is exactly what the Isles want. They're playing a fine road game. Dubie's playing well. They survived the first period and only surrendered one goal despite totally being outplayed. They might just tie it and from there who knows...
They did tie it in the second period.
But only a few moments later, Witt takes a delay of game penalty, and Captain Chris Drury cashes in with a powerplay goal, and the HSBC absolutely EXPLODES! Huge goal. I breathe a sigh of relief.
New York comes right back. I'm thinking this one is far from over, and the next goal is HUGE. Buffalo scores that next goal. Drury again. Unbelievable, and once again the place goes nuts.
Then Brian Campbell finds the back of the net for his second goal of the game (he opened the scoring on a one-timer from Tim Connolly, playing in just his third game this season and first at home - he's finally back after suffering that concussion in the second round of last year's playoffs). 4-1. That was the final.
Great way to start the series. Great way to start the playoffs. GREAT INTRODUCTION OF WHAT PLAYOFF HOCKEY IS LIKE for me.
HSBC Arena was absolutely going WILD. It was a "white out"...white t-shirts were distributed but not everyone wore 'em - still a lot of people did (I did). We had gold pom-poms and that was the best part - when we scored, it was really quite the scene with all those pom-poms. My sister got one of the goals on video from her digital camera and captured the crowd's reaction -- also, watching that, I couldn't believe how loud we were! That arena was so, so loud. From the introduction of the team, tribute video with the Goo Goo Dolls, to the goals of course, the decibles were so high it made your ears ring. It was tremendous. And I was right in there too....yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs to the very end. (Now I don't have much of a voice actually..and my throat is sore!)
BEING THERE was just very moving, knowing hundreds of thousands of WNYers were watching with me (though on TV instead). The beginning was perhaps the most moving of all. In fact during the tribute video, I must admit I had a few tears! Seeing this city come together, watching that video which highlighted all the suburbs and all the communities in this area from up north to the far southtowns, it was really something. And the Goo Goo Dolls (from Buffalo) "Better Days" song in the background just fit so perfectly. The anthems gave me goosebumps too. Everyone sang the Canadian and U.S. Anthems. I sang them both loudly and proudly. It was really something.
My first playoff game, but definitely not my last. I have plenty more tickets, for all the home games this playoffs, but I won't be going to all of the games for financial/work related reasons. I will be going to more this year though and I can not wait.
This city is CUP CRAZY, the fan base is AMAZING. We're ready for that next step. And it's looking like our team is too. Now, now we just hope. And pray. And believe in this team. You never know what might happen, but I'm just going to enjoy this ride. It's been tremendous so far, and I really hope it's just the beginning. GO SABRES!