The points that got away
By Andrew Kulyk
This past week’s spate of games was a feel good run for long suffering Buffalo Sabres fans, as dreams of a trip to the playoffs, pretty much denied for the bulk of the Pegula Era, was there. So tantalizingly close. Once again, we stared at the standings, hung on relevant out of town games and watched with hope, and with trepidation.
The dream crashed down this past Tuesday, as the Sabres were swamped and overmatched by the New Jersey Devils, losing 6-2 and mathematical elimination as a result.
Thursday was the home finale at home, and it was a farewell appearance for goaltender Craig Anderson, who at age 42 called it a career at the conclusion of the night. The Sabres took this one to overtime and the game winner. For the first time in many years, fans departed KeyBank Center full of hope and excitement, that next year could well be the year that their team will finally break their postseason slump.
With the standings now final, the Sabres needed just two, TWO, points to hope over either the New York Islanders or the Florida Panthers and claim one of the last two playoff sports in the Eastern Conference. Find Buffalo just two points, and the team could be opening the Stanley Cup playoffs this coming Monday, either at the Carolina Hurricanes or the Boston Bruins.
And where would those two points have come from? Let’s go down memory lane, and revisit some of the games played this past year, and where the points got away…
October 27… Montreal 3, Buffalo 2. Canadiens’ Josh Anderson scores the game winning goal at the 16:14 mark to give the visitors the win, denying two points to the Sabres in what was otherwise a pretty productive month of October.
November 28…Tampa Bay 6, Buffalo 5 in overtime. The Sabres were up 5-3 late in the third period, yet the Lightning managed to score two late goals on Ukka Pekka-Luukonen. The. It was Steve Stamkos getting the game winner for Tampa at 2:44 in overtime.
January 17… Chicago 4, Buffalo 3 in overtime at the United center in Chicago. Again, the Sabres were up by two in the third period. Defenseman Seth Jones ties the game with :56 left in regulation, then nets the game winner in overtime.
March 7… New York Islanders 3, Buffalo 2. Played at UBS Arena on Long Island, the Islanders Hudson Fasching scored the game winning goal in the third period, and initially the goal was disallowed by the referees. Video review award the goal to Fasching. Not only were the Sabres denied two points, but the Islanders got those points, crucial four point swing as both teams were chasing the two available wild card slots.
March 11…New York Rangers 2, Buffalo 1 in overtime. A particularly stupid penalty in overtime sealed this one, as the Rangers pretty much controlled puck possession throughout the overtime before Artemi Panarin netted the game winner.
March 15 Washington 5, Buffalo 4 in a shootout. Buffalo was up by two in the third and once again couldn’t finish. The Capitals’ Tom Wilson gets the tying goal with 1:08 left in regulation. This one would go to a shootout and Luukonen looked overwhelmed as the Capitals sealed the deal and the extra point.
April 4…Florida 2, Buffalo 1. As the season wound down and every point mattered in the playoff chase, it was the Panthers who scored early in the third to take the lead and the eventual game winner. The Sabres played a listless period before putting on a last second barrage of pressure.
Again, a four point swing, denying the Sabres two points while the wild card chasing Panthers got the two.
Over the past few months, this hockey column has been loud and resolute over the Sabres and its league partners, who have been for the most part ignoring the situation in Ukraine, and by extension a war and an attack on all of us, and the role that Russian based NHL players have played and are continuing to play in that war of horror and genocide.
Last month Russian Sabres defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin chose not to participate in the team’s Pride promotion, citing recently passed laws by the Russian parliament vaguely criminalizing “gay propaganda.”
Does that mean the Sabres, and other teams, are now setting team policy based on laws being invoked by Putin’s terrorist state? It is shameful, it is disgusting, and we called the Sabres organization out on it. The bigger picture here, folks, is not the dissing of the LGBTQ community. It is Russia and their president Vladimir Putin asserting control of NHL policy and messaging. No this is not an overstatement. Through Lyubushkin the Sabres have bowed to the will of Putin, a man who the International Criminal Court issued a war crimes arrest warrant for just two weeks ago.
A few days after my Lyubushkin column ran, Nicole Hendricks, Senior Director of Communications for the Buffalo Sabres, reacted to the criticism of the Sabres coddling that Russian player’s homophobia. Hendricks communicated her anger over the article and also tersely informed me I am no longer welcome to KeyBank Center. This comes after 52 seasons as a passionate fan of the team, 26 years as a season ticket holder, and 18 years as a credentialed media member.
In the over three decades of Artvoice’s coverage of Sabres hockey, our publication has dealt with and built relationships with dedicated and professional public relations executives on the Sabres staff… specifically communications heads Gil Chorbadjian, Mike Gilbert, and Chris Bandura. The shrill and unprofessional communication sent by this staffer was an embarrassment to the Sabres organization, and to the predecessors listed here who have represented the team well in the past. I did reply, gave a lengthy basis for my opinions and writing, and pretty much told the Sabres good bye.
I had already decided to part ways with the Sabres beat back in January, when the NHL rolled out Washington Capitals star and super Putin supporter Alexander Ovechkin’s young son onto the ice amidst the spectacle at the NHL All Star festivities. It was pure propaganda executed by the league, which has faced criticism as a result of Ovechkin’s full throated supported of his pal Vladimir Putin. That was the moment I realized that the NHL, and their record chasing superstar, is nothing more than another element, another tool of propaganda designed to promote Russian objectives.
Despite protestations from Ms. Hendricks, this corner will not be silenced. Other journalists and media outlets across the USA and Canada have called out the league and the teams for their continued rallying of their Russian players, and moving forward we will as well.
Thank you, friends and readers, for your support these past 18 seasons. It has been an incredible run of memories and experiences which I will always treasure. Best of all, I remain with Artvoice as a free lance columnist. We’ll be talking baseball, and from time to time, hockey as well!