BUFFALO (LGS) — When I think back to all of the playoff games that the Buffalo Sabres have been a part of in my 24-year lifetime, I come across some moments that make the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention. There are many goals that stand out, saves that made my jaw drop and checks that gave me black eyes through the television.
Was last season’s team most memorable?
Last season’s team created its fair share of these memorable moments. There were goals, saves and hits that no one will forget anytime soon. Players like Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Brian Campbell and Jason Pominville will live on in the hearts of the fans forever.
Pominville especially, it seems, has received fame for his 2006 playoff accomplishments. His shorthanded overtime series-winning goal against the Ottawa Senators last May cemented his place right next to the likes of Don Luce, Derek Plante and Brad May as Sabres who eliminated a team with an overtime goal.
It even gave him cult status in the fan base. WGRZ in Buffalo did an expose on Pominville back in Jan. 2007. But it wasn’t the player they were featuring, it was the place.
Pominville, it seems, resides in a bar in Hamburg, N.Y. where the fans get together to watch the team they love so much and the player they idolize to an extreme. They even have a baby picture of their guy hanging on the wall.
And who could forget the hit by Brian Campbell on R.J. Umberger in the first game of the opening round against Philadelphia? I can’t. Of course, it doesn’t help matters when you can do a YouTube search for Campbell and watch dozens of postings of the same video. Some of those come with Rick Jeanneret’s call of the hit. I prefer the OLN version, myself.
“Brian Campbell just cold-cocked R.J. Umberger,” exclaimed the OLN announcer. That call sent shivers down my spine from the first time it played over the air. But no matter what you think of the hit or the play-call, seeing it gets you pumped up and thinking playoffs.
There just isn’t enough time to go into everything last year’s team accomplished. They were the most memorable team, simply because they came with built-in theatrics. The hope is that this year’s team will usurp even them. When you have a carryover effect this strong, the expectations get large. The Stanley Cup is within the grasp of all Sabres fans, and what would make this year any more special than finally having it finally in our collective hands.
An overtime goal is what the doctor prescribes
An overtime goal lives on forever because of the finality it brings with it. The game is over and the winning team gets to celebrate the theatrics. The losers get struck with a feeling of heartbreak that isn’t describable with words.
And that is why the playoffs are so wonderful.
“The most memorable goal I can remember was when Chris Drury scored the game winning goal in overtime in the first game of the second round versus Ottawa,” John Irrera, of Rochester, said. “I was driving back (home) with a friend of mine, and we were listening to the game, and the Sabres scored around 10 seconds in. At the same time there seemed to be a lightning storm coming off the lake, and I, only seeing the light from the corner of my eye, asked my friend, ‘What was that?’ My friend’s response was, 'the destruction of Ottawa.'”
For Brenton Granville, of Buffalo, the setting changes to 1999, when the Sabres were facing the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup final.
I know what you are thinking. Trust me, I do. You are thinking that his most memorable goal was the one Brett Hull most certainly did not score.
But if you think this, you are wrong. He doesn’t want to torture himself reliving that goal each second that passes. No, he has another goal in mind.
“For me, it was Jason Woolley’s Game 1 overtime winner,” he said. “Jeanneret calling the goal (‘The shot heard ‘round the hockey world’) is what I single out. To steal a game like that in the Stars' building after all of the talk about Buffalo not being able to stand up to the great Dallas Stars was just incredible.”
Dramatic influence seems to play a key role in selecting these defining moments in a game. A player wants to be remembered for scoring when the game is on the line. These particular ones, as well as current Sabres Pominville and Briere all live on in the hearts of many fans. And with each playoff, there are even more chances for some unlikely player to step up and play the role of the hero.
There are many more heroes, of course. Rene Robert scored in 1975 in a thick fog to win Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals. Dave Hannan ended the longest game in team history in 1994 against the Devils. J.P. Dumont scored a game-winner against Ottawa two games prior to Pominville’s series clincher last season.
But my most memorable playoff goal doesn’t come with the same level of fanfare. Though also being in overtime, not many people even realize it was scored. But to me it will always be special.
A winning goal that few remember
Back in the spring of 1993, the team was an explosive force that racked up the most goals scored by a Sabres team. With the exception of the Pittsburgh Penguins' stars like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis, Buffalo had some of the most dynamic talent in the game.
Pat LaFontaine, Alexander Mogilny and the rest of the high-powered force skated into a playoff series with Boston that year as the lower seed but won both games in Boston. Game 1 went into overtime, and the Sabres prevailed. Game 2 didn’t, but the Sabres still won.
And so the series switched back to Buffalo for Games 3 and 4, and a possible sweep was looming on the horizon against the team that had eliminated them from the playoffs so many times before. Buffalo did sweep the Bruins that season, and we all know who scored the winning goal in Game 4. I mean, the play-call is infamous around the NHL. “May Day! May Day!” Rick Jeanneret yelled into the as the young Brad May skated around and was mobbed by his teammates.
But both games in my hometown went into overtime. Buffalo obviously won both, but the third game’s winner probably fails to rank on many peoples’ list of memorable goals despite the period of the game it was scored in.
I’m betting not many remember who put it in the net. I mean, with no cheating.
Give up? The answer is Yuri Khmylev. I know it was because I was there in the stands cheering and jumping and almost falling out of the orange seats in the Aud.
But it wasn’t as memorable as Game 4. Eliminating a team in overtime is thrilling. May’s goal will forever be memorable to me. It was insane to think he could make the move on Ray Bourque and deke Andy Moog out of his jockstrap. But the guy did it. That memory won’t ever be fading from my mind.
How can it? It is all over YouTube.
But to even get to that point, Buffalo needed to win Game 3. They did it in overtime, and as the puck went in, I jumped up and down with my father beside me. And the guy who scored the goal wasn’t liked too well in this town despite his all-important goal. Yuri Khmylev was run out of town after a good – yet unappreciated – career here in Buffalo. He was eventually traded to the St. Louis Blues. But he will forever have my most memorable playoff goal.
To me, the memorable goals and moments are usually watched from the seat on my couch. I’ve never had season tickets. So it is easy to say that the reason Khmylev’s goal was my most memorable is because I wasn’t sitting on a couch. I was there.
Where were you?
In research for this article, I published a 10-question survey for Sabre fans to participate in and posted it to three different message boards, as well as on my MySpace page. The answers, like in all surveys, ranged from intelligent to quirky, to downright silly. I’ve compiled the best of the best here for an exclusive look at how Sabre fans like you and me feel about the playoffs, and what they mean to the area. Each part will have an original set of responses. Thank you to all who participated. Maybe your response will be below. Maybe it will come in Part II or III of this series. Check back Tuesday and Wednesday morning for more!
What is your favorite playoff hockey moment?
- When Brian Campbell "killed" R.J. Umburger.
- It was in 1973. I was 10 years old, watching the game on TV – Sabres’ first appearance in the playoffs – sixth game of the quarterfinals, in the Aud. Late in the game, as it became clear that Montreal was going to win the game and the series, the fans stood up and started chanting “thank you Sabres.” To this day I get goosebumps thinking about it.
Who has scored the most memorable goal in Sabres' playoff history? What makes it memorable to you?
- Brad May. Nothing really because I didn’t follow hockey back then but it was memorable to those who watched it I’m sure.
Were the Sabres your first team of choice in the NHL, or have you liked other teams before Buffalo?
- Yes. I lived in Buffalo and would never like any other team, especially Canadian teams: they annoy me.