There is something about playing Ottawa that always seems like a big deal. I think the feeling started two years ago, just before the improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals. About this time of year the Sabres were looking competitive and in the middle of the playoff race. The only problem, though, was that we just couldn’t beat Ottawa.
There was the game where Miller broke his hand in practice and Alfredsson KILLED Marty Biron that night. There were all those close games that slipped away in the third period. 10-1, 5-0, 6-1; it didn’t matter the score, the Sabres just couldn’t seem to beat Ottawa; and you knew eventually we would meet in the playoffs.
On February 4th the Sabres finally beat Ottawa, 2-1 in a shootout. I wasn’t there, but I remember feeling relieved that we finally proved they were beatable. It wasn’t a spectacular game and wasn’t played particularly well, but just to know it was possible helped my confidence in the team so much. (Think about how much better Bruins fans would feel about playing Montreal if they had won a game against them this year)
The big game for me was April 5th of that year. One Pizza Hut Family Night pack later and I was behind Ray Emery for two periods. Before this game the Sabres were outscored 33-15 by Ottawa. The trend continued as Ottawa led 4-3 in the third. It was a tense feeling in the building, you could feel how important this game was to everyone.
Less then a minute left. The goalie was on the bench and chaos was unfolding before me. Brian Campbell took the puck down low. Tickticktick. The cross ice pass to Briere, something that worked so many times that year. Puck hits twine and the building explodes. Overtime.
In overtime Afinogenov almost gets a breakaway but his hooked down. When the penalty called you could just feel the inevitability of it all. Once again the power play sets up. Max had the puck and was cycling with himself. This was the year that would actually work, and suddenly he’s free beside the net. Guess who was on the other side of the net just as free?
Before Danny Briere even touched the puck we were in the air celebrating.
We had them. We had Ottawa’s number. That was the thought running through my head as we headed for the car that night. It felt like a playoff game against a playoff team, but we had won and you just knew that game was going to matter in the end. We played one more time and beat them 6-2, the momentum of that finish propelling this team into the playoffs and said inevitable matchup with Ottawa.
You all know the rest of the story, but let me tell you that the feeling inside the building during that series is the same one in it on April 5th of that year. There are some that say regular season games are just points, but I’d say they are missing the point altogether.
Tonight has the makings of a game just like that one. Ottawa is a very similar team to the Sabres. I saw this because even in the few Sens games I’ve seen they have taken games off, much like Buffalo seems to do. Both are struggling and collectively underachieving. Ottawa, however, is comfortably underachieving, the luxury of which we do not have. The next two games will more then likely determine the season for the Sabres, and so I would expect them to come out flying. Then again, no one seems to know this team anymore.
Nathan should be back tonight, and we’re going to need him to guard against the big three. Ottawa has lost two straight and put up nine goals in the process. It’s not a lack of offense that is hurting them.