Sunday wasn't Christmas Day, but it symbolized something almost as appealing for the members of a team that was 20 minutes short of the Stanley Cup Finals during the 2005-06 season.
With the team's 4-2 vanquishing of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at HSBC Arena, the regular season has officially arrived at One Seymour H. Knox III Plaza.
"After all the exhibition games and the long preseason, you're always ready for the real thing," said co-captain Chris Drury, who tied the Sabres final exhibition game at 3-3 with a goal at the 11:00 mark of the third. "We're not focusing on outside expectations [as the regular season approaches]. We have our own expectations and our own goals."
Despite the anticipation and raised expectations from last season's success, Drury is resolved in keeping the past where it is. Any memories of last season's glory have been dismissed as just that, memories.
According to Buffalo's reining goal-scoring champion, the team most stay focused on the task at hand and continue to look just one game ahead to be successful in the coming year.
"Anything to do with last year, hard work or effort wise, doesn't mean a darn thing this season," Drury said. "We need to regroup, refocus and be ready for Wednesday."
Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff agreed with Drury assessment of the situation and shared his overall thoughts on Buffalo's training camp.
"I liked our training camp, but training camp is over," said Ruff. "You don't get any awards and you can't affect the standings during camp."
Despite dropping just one of five exhibition games, the Sabres needed to battle for each of the team's four victories. The uphill battles during the exhibition season are something that Ruff believes will help the team stay sharp when Buffalo's season opens next Wednesday at Carolina.
"Being in the type of game we were in tonight was a good type of game for us to be in," said Ruff. "We had to battle back and belly up in the last 20 minutes to get the opportunity to win the game, which I think we did."
Trailing the Penguins 2-1, Adam Mair banked Max Afinogenov's arrant pass off Marc-Andre Fleury's left pad to tie the game three minutes into the third. The goal was Mair's second in as many nights, including a game-winner in overtime against Pittsburgh on Friday.
"The strength of our club is our depth and it's important for players like Adam to chip in," said Ruff.
Drury gave Buffalo the 3-2 lead when he converted Ales Kotalik's rebound into his second goal of the preseason with nine minutes remaining in regulation, while Henrik Tallinder added an empty netter to push the score to 4-2.
Brian Campbell registered Buffalo's first goal at 18:50 of the first after his one timer from the left point deflected off Brooks Orpik's stick.Ryan Miller
recorded his second victory during exhibition play after stopping 20 of 22 shots.
"For the most part, we got through [the preseason] without any serious injuries or mishaps," said Mair. "We now start with a clean slate on Wednesday."SCORING SHEETS Game Summary | Super Stats | Face-offs | Play-by-Play | Shift Chart