Revenge on the Menu?
Sabres-Isles will stir up an old rivalry
BUFFALO (LGS) — Cancel the stories about the dueling chants and how the Leafs can't win in Buffalo and how different the cities are. When the Sabres and Islanders meet up in the first round of the playoffs, the side stories are going to be so much better — Nolan, Satan, Connolly.
And the 1979-80 Buffalo Sabres.
The last time the Sabres had the best regular-season record in the conference, before this year, was in 1980. It was Scotty Bowman's first season in Buffalo, and the Sabres' powerhouse of the mid-70s enjoyed an Indian Summer revival. Gilbert Perreault scored 40 goals, Danny Gare 56. Richard Martin added 45, Jim Schoenfeld was an all-star, and goaltenders Bob Sauve and Don Edwards shared the Vezina Trophy, then awarded to the team that allowed the fewest goals.
A superstar coach. Snipers up and down the lineup. A solid tandem in goal. Who was going to beat them?
The New York Islanders.
In the Stanley Cup semifinals (there was no conference playoff then, which is why there's a Prince of Wales banner for that year hanging in the rafters at HSBC Arena), the Islanders took the first three games before withstanding a furious comeback that sent the series back to Long Island for Game 6. New York won the series that night and went on to capture its first of four consecutive Cups.
Rookie Lindy Ruff vs. Hatchetman Billy Smith in that deciding game will be a great story to tell, and for that we can thank those Fishermen who slogged around The Swamp for 65 minutes and change this afternoon and emerged with a two-point catch.
See how much fun this is going to be? Hey Yashin, is that tartar sauce on your chin? Oh... never mind. The real challenge is going to be trying to figure out a way to work in the lines, "We were biting this morning" and, "Real good, Steve. Real good."
This is why for a few hours this afternoon, I was a huge Islanders fan. I didn't fear the Leafs. Honest. That's not what my temporary Islander worship was all about. I was just sick of seeing blue and white.
The "rivalry" is totally played out. Tucker as a villain is old news now that we have Neil. Sundin is a bore. And, frankly, HSBC Arena erupting after all five goals the Leafs would have scored in Buffalo would really have gotten on my nerves. Bad blood? That's so 1999. 1980 is where the action is now.
And 1976 and 1977. The Islanders eliminated the Sabres in those years, too, in the quarterfinals, Buffalo hoping to beat New York to the dynasty punch. It never happened. Not that a series win over the Islanders this time will completely avenge the loss in '80, unless the NHL wants to skip ahead and make this the Eastern Conference finals.
Still, sending the Isles to the golf course will feel great. And that's why you can color me happy that we're going to be treated to some blue and orange for a change.
As an older fan, I love the symmetry of beating a team that three times kept us from runs at the Stanley Cup and doing so at precisely the time we are on the precipice again. I love the idea of winning one for Jim Schoenfeld and the boys. After losing to the Islanders in 1980, Bowman began to dismantle the old gang, much to the disappointment of the fans — not to mention Schoenfeld, who broke down in tears at the airport on his way to Detroit in 1981.
After that, it was a slow and steady decline through the 1980s for the Sabres, leading to Bowman's ticket out of town and first pick Pierre Turgeon's key to the city. Turgeon, of course, was traded to the Islanders in a move that brought Pat LaFontaine to Buffalo in 1991 and almost singlehandedly reinvented hockey on the Niagara Frontier.
Thanks to LaFontaine, the Sabres got hot again, and the foundation was laid for a new arena that has helped ensure the financial viability of the franchise.
So here we are, April 2007, hockey and life coming full circle.
The choice was dried-up Make Believes or piping-hot Fishsticks.
I'm happy the way it turned out. I was in the mood for fresh meat. And revenge served cold.