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The Sabres Season: Five Defining Moments

Two more points would have meant a playoff berth

Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.

Last Saturday’s meaningless finale at Boston had the Sabres organization, their players, their angry head coach, and their fans on the ropes. How could such a season—which began on the ice at Hartwall Areena in Helsinki with such promise, such hope, such white hot expectations—end in such bitter disappointment?

Supporters of the Sabres went through the stages of grief not once but twice. First back in January and early February, as a 12-game road losing streak had them tied for last in the conference, and the call for firings, for sweeping changes, and for selling at the trade deadline. None happened, pieces were added, and the team went on an incredible run. Visions of playoffs, and even a deep run into the postseason, were back on the table.

But sometimes a season comes down to a number of seminal moments, and here is our top five list of things that we wish we could change in the year that was:

1. Milan Lucic’s devastating hit. It was November 12 at the TD Garden when Boston’s big bad boy, Milan Lucic, took a run at goalie Ryan Miller while chasing the puck into the offensive zone. Not only did Miller not manage to complete the game, he missed substantial time from the repercussions of that hit. Worse yet, nobody from the Sabres came to Miller’s aide, and questions about the team’s toughness dogged them the rest of the season. The Sabres lost that game, 6-2. They would win only nine of the next 33.

2. December 7, Flyers win 5-4 in overtime. This one still brings a pain to the gut. The Sabres take a 3-0 lead at home against a tired Philadelphia team, but the Flyers come roaring back to tie it, and this one was headed to overtime. Marc Andre Gragani’s errant pass in the offensive zone ended up on the stick of Claude Giroux, who raced down the ice on a breakaway and faked Ryan Miller to put in the game-winner. A precious point in the standings lost.

3. Time Warner pulls the plug. A dispute over subscriber rights fees had MSG network, the primary carrier of Sabres games, in a public and ugly dispute with Time Warner Cable, and as a result the telecasts disappeared from the air in most households during the month of January and into early February. Perhaps coincidentally, the team’s most epic swoon coincided with the TV blackout. Was the team dogging it away from the eyeballs of their supporters, during a stretch when the team was for the most part on the road?

4. March 14 vs. Colorado. Oh, that last second. You’re up 4-3, there are 10 seconds left in regulation, and your opponent has one final desperate rush up the ice. How do you allow them to score? But that’s exactly what did happen, as the Av’s Jamie McGinn scooped up a puck in the crease during a mad scramble to tie the game with two seconds to go. Incredibly, the Sabres had allowed a last-second goal just two nights earlier against Montreal, but escaped disaster with an overtime win. Not so lucky the second time, as Colorado won in the shootout, and Buffalo lost another precious point.

5. Team ends season 1-3-1. Coach Lindy Ruff broke the last 20 games down into five-game segments, calling each segment a playoff round. In the penultimate round, the Sabres went 5-0, including statement wins at the New York Rangers and at Washington, which had Sabres Nation in a frenzy. Then the losses…okay, allow the one against Pittsburgh, but the loss at Toronto was inexcusable, and the only win in this last segment came in overtime against the Leafs, thanks to an epic comeback. Yes, the Sabres lost two defensemen to injury at a critical time. But this ill-timed collapse when they had their destiny in their own hands put an exclamation point on what will surely be remembered as one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.

Taro Sez…

• The AHL Rochester Americans are in a down-to-the-wire race for a playoff berth in a wild final week of regular season play. Six teams are just one point apart, fighting for the final four playoff berths in the Western Conference. The regular season concludes this Sunday.

• One of the dumbest ideas to come around in a while was a ticket procurement scheme rolled out by the Sabres titled “Option It.” The rules and FAQs would have driven the most sophisticated derivatives trader in the stock market a bit crazy. Essentially, a single ticket buyer could purchase an “option” at an undefined price, guaranteeing the holder the right to buy a ticket at the listed face value. If the game is not played, the option expires and is worthless. Options could be bought and resold on the open market. Here’s another idea: If the Sabres qualify for the playoffs next season, how about simply selling all remaining single tickets only at the First Niagara Center box office on a predetermined day and time? No phone sales, no internet, just line up and first come, first served. Like the old days, camped out on Terrace Street outside the Aud.

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