-When I first thought of writing the “End of Season” blog, it was just over a week ago and I figured it would be mid-May at the earliest. How quickly things changed. Of course, back in early February, if you asked me when I thought the year-end blog would be written, I would have told you April 11. Just being honest. How quickly things changed then, too. I’ve witnessed some great accomplishments by this franchise during my six seasons working here, but this year’s team may be the most impressive. The first year out of the lockout (my first here) will always be special and frustrating. The euphoria from that season continues to be haunted by a staph infection and a stupid rule that still exits today. The 2006-07 season was the best regular season in franchise history as the Sabres won the President’s Trophy for most points in the league. It was an awesome achievement, but tainted by losing to Ottawa in the conference finals (Hey, we all want to win in this organization). The division title was nice last year, but being bounced by the Bruins was bitter.
This year was different. This team was left for dead following Derek Roy
’s injury back in December. The ownership transfer and uncertainty that naturally accompanies such change added some weight on the shoulders of the team. There were more things that could be pointed out, but those were the biggies. Through it all, this team did not give up. The Pegula family brought an extremely positive, infectious vibe to HSBC Arena that found its way into the dressing room. The experienced coaching staff continued to display belief in the players and found ways to integrate the steady and necessary invasion of Pirates over the final month. Tyler Myers
started playing like Tyler Myers
. Jhonas Enroth
was spectacular filling in for a concussed Ryan Miller
. Nathan Gerbe
’s hard work paid off, and he proved he’s a gamer. Thomas Vanek
made a strong case to be the next captain of the team. I could go on, but I don’t need too. You all witnessed it and were a part of it. It was special, and a reason to be proud of a team that we all poured our hearts and souls into for seven months this year. Let’s make it nine months next year!
-Now it was “feel good” in the previous note, but it still stings to lose to the Flyers. The Sabres had them on the hook, but never set it (could have used the bull and horn metaphor, but thought fishing was more appropriate in spring). The chance to win the series was in Game 6 at home on Easter. Everyone knew it. Being up 3-1 going into the second period, nobody in HSBC Arena was thinking about Game 7, except the Flyers. They came out and did what they did all series by dominating the second period. The second periods of Games 1 and 2 in Philly were a parade to the penalty box for Buffalo. Game 3 saw two tap-ins on Ryan Miller
, which the team was unable to recover from. Game 4 was perhaps the best second period of the series for the team, as they played desperate to avoid going down three games to one. Game 5 was another penalty-filled affair and Flyer comeback after that quick 3-0 lead. And Game 6 was another two-goal outburst by the Flyers. Are there any second period specialists on the free agent market this summer?
|Photo: Getty Images |
Another thing the Sabres failed to do in the series was put the Flyers away after a goaltender change. Peter Laviolette pulled his goalie three times in the series, and it worked. The Sabres were unable to get a quality scoring chance on goal in each of the games when the change was made. That’s all it would have taken. On the flip side, it’s amazing how the Flyers responded each time, dominated puck possession and limited any opportunities by Buffalo.
-Darn it, Danny Briere is good. Without getting into back-story (I’m sure there’s more we don’t know than we do know), he was the best player in the series. He’s a great comeback story for the second time in his career. The first was here in Buffalo after being put on the trash heap in Phoenix and then being traded to Buffalo. In Philly, he was the poster boy for bad, bloated NHL contracts after injury-riddled seasons. A buyout was an often-rumored option with #48. But he has bounced back to be a big game performer and pest. All that being said, that was a brutal and disgusting hit from behind on Rob Niedermeyer in Game 7. Danny was never a choirboy, but that was cheap. He must have learned that from Mike Richards.
-I don’t know what the future holds for UFA center Tim Connolly
, but I hope fans appreciate how tough he is. That word is not often associated with Connolly because of all the injuries that he’s suffered during his career, but that is precisely the reason why I used it. To comeback from all those injuries is not easy. His production fell off, which has to be a direct correlation, but his desire didn’t. Why else would he dive to block so many shots on the penalty kill? I believe it was last year (I could be off), in which he played for quite a stretch with a broken rib or bruised ribs. That’s extremely painful, and Lindy Ruff complimented his dedication to getting out there. I was impressed this year when he was absolutely crushed into the boards in Tampa and his blood stained the boards. He came back in that game with a full shield on. He ended up needing reconstructive surgery on his nose and missed time. I once asked someone in the know why he has suffered so many injuries. The answer was because Tim was willing to go into the corners and other areas where you get hit and hurt. That’s exactly where he was when suffered the separated sternum in Game 6 on the hit from behind by Mike Richards.
-Ok, the last two notes have finished with references to Mike Richards’ hit on Tim Connolly
. It may sound like bitterness from losing the series or that I’m for soft hockey. Hardly. I love hitting. I love fighting. What I hate is the cheap stuff. There are only two ways that hitting from behind and hits to the head are going to end in the NHL. The first is for players to start showing respect for each other. Since that’s not going to happen, the second must occur. The NHL has to get tougher on EVERYONE, not just the post office list.
-I’m on Twitter now. I guess I’m supposed to tell you all to follow me @kevsylvester, even though I have yet to send out my first tweet. I’m not sure when that will be, either. Probably when the Pegula girls teach me how.
-Now that the season is over, everyone asks me what I’ll be doing this summer. Tee 2 Green will have a 6th season on WGRZ, and I’ll be on a treadmill trying to lose the 15 lbs. I gained this winter. I blame the World Junior Championships and an upcoming blog that will be titled Pancakes of the NHL.