Raleigh, NC (LGS) -- It was relief.
Buffalo Sabres' fans across Western New York and beyond had to brave witnessing the Carolina Hurricanes lift their 2006 Stanley Cup championship banner during their Opening Night pre-game ceremonies. Amongst the varying emotions of anger and frustration, one finally came into focus -- a giant sense of relief.
Buffalo had the whole summer to wonder about what ifs. What if Tim Connolly didn't cut into the middle of the ice? What if Henrik Tallinder didn't break his forearm? What if Jay McKee wasn't lost on the morning of Game Seven? If you were like me I'm sure you had a hard time coming to terms with the circumstances that led up to the Sabres defeat last June. That is, until the puck dropped Wednesday night.
Once that puck hit the ice, last season became nothing but a distant memory. It's a new season and the Cup is back up for grabs. Lindy Ruff's boys enter the season as just about every expert’s sure thing to make the Cup finals. Many Vegas odds makers even have Buffalo as the favorite to win.
These big expectations are rather new to the Sabres. Last season everyone doubted them, this season everyone expects them to win. Buffalo has the talent, the will and the coaching to own this season if they chose to. No longer having to prove they are contenders, the Sabres now look to prove they are the class of the league.
So far so good.
It was only one game with a modest 81 more to play, but the Sabres came into Carolina and faced a jacked-up Stanley Cup Champion. Carolina came out like hurricane season was in full swing. The Sabres looked lost in the first period and in many ways looked in awe of their opponents. Buffalo weathered the storm and eventually went on to score the game's first goal, a point shot by Dmitri Kalinin.
The Sabres would be forced to comeback after falling behind 2-1 when Chris Drury tied the score before the second intermission. In the third period the Sabres flipped the switch and carried the play. Both teams exchanged chances in overtime but when it was all over Ryan Miller out dueled Cam Ward.
It was one of those games that could have gone either way. It wasn't pretty but it didn't have to be. Great teams always find a way to win. One heart wrenching banner ceremony and a shootout later, the Sabres were the greater team.