A Night to Remember at HSBC Arena and 8 Fancy Pictures
The headline is quite profound, it was an incredible night at HSBC Arena. Billed, Fan Appreciation Night, thousands of people assembled in the plaza outside of the arena hours before the game started to catch a glimpse of one of the eighty former Sabres back for the celebration.
I took $40 out of the automatic teller machine before heading downtown. I spend the first $10 at Anderson's on a couple of Roast Beef on Weck sandwiches. I spent $10 to make sure I parked between the lines in my favorite lot just a few short blocks away from the Arena. I spend $10 on two cookies frosted with the Sabres logo (Photo #1 above). I spent the last $10 on ten 50/50 raffle tickets. I didn't buy the winner, but someone did, and they collected a cool 64K for their efforts.
When the fans decided to make their way from the plaza outside to their seat inside they were greeted at the door with a Sabres version of the terrible towel and a program that's cover was a tribute to Richard Martin (Photo #2 above).
The cool thing about everyone getting to their seats early was that almost 16,000 people got to enjoy the warmup (Photo #3 above). At this point, Greg was texting me from his baller seat in the 200 level and Tammy was searching the concourse for a fresh glass of Piels (her favorite beer).
As you can see in picture #4, over 80 former Sabres took a bow and waved to the crowd as they were introduced alphabetically by decade. Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert got a loud pop as they carried a Rick Martin jersey out to the the ice. Darren Puppa was a nice surprise and my favorite player in attendance to represent the Eighties. Pat LaFontaine got the biggest pop of the night and it was great to have Mike Peca in the arena, a clear sign that the bitterness of his contract holdout is behind everyone involved.
People love to sit on the "shoot-twice" side of the arena, and I can understand why. However, sitting on the "shoot-once" side (see picture 5, above) has its advantages. I would say that a majority of the time both sides are equally good. Tonight, the Sabres fell behind 1-0 after 1. Then they stormed out of the intermission to outshoot the Flyers 8-0 in the first five minutes of the period and stole the lead on goals by Gerbe and Pominville. Not to be dominated completely, the Flyers scored a shorthanded goal, and penalty time just expired as they scored another, allowing them to head into the locker room with a 3-2 lead.
That is my seat (photo #6). I sit there around twenty regular season games a year. That seat is in Section 323, Row, 6, Seat 1. As part of fan appreciation night, all of the Sabres players were giving their jersey off their backs to a randomly selected season ticket holder. During the course of the game, a video would play on the screen featuring the given player and him announcing the winning seat and the lucky season ticket holder that would meet them after the game to claim the jersey off their backs. Late in the second period, Tyler Myers made the following announcement, "Hey Fans, If you are sitting in section 323, row 7, seat 1 you have just won the jersey off my back. I will see you after the game." ROW 7!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! One row away. Seriously? Instead of a die hard Buffalonian, the jersey was claimed by a lawyer from Toronto named, Rob. He and his son Sawyer were like giddy school girls anticipating a meeting with Justin Bieber. A cute little thing working for the Sabres came in-between periods and gave Rob his instructions. (See photo 7, below)
(Rob is a great guy, a fantastic father, and a huge Tyler Myers fan. If someone besides me had to win the jersey, I am glad it was him.)
Sometimes, to be polite about it, the crowd inside the HSBC Arena sucks. The fans are negative, scream "shoot" constantly, and are just too quiet. Tonight was not one of those nights. The crown brought their A game. In the third period Gerbe scored the goal of the season to tie the game at three. Fans cheered, gave high-five, and waived their free towels (Picture 8, above). The last minute of the game proved to be uncontested, as the Sabres held the puck in their own zone and the Flyers chose not to forecheck. As the time ticked away, the crowd got louder, appreciating the fact that a team that started 3-9-4 had clinched a spot in the NHL Playoffs for the second straight season and for the fourth time out of six since the lockout ended. Overtime lasted only seconds. Thomas Vanek picked up a puck at his own blue-line, knocked away a defender at his blue-line, and pounded on the turbo button flying towards the goalie where he went back hand, top-shelf, game over. After a 4-3 victory, on a historic night, the Sabres met at center to salute a fan base that has always been there for them.
Updating the Eastern Conference Playoffs
Going into the last weekend of the season, The Sabres can begin to prepare for 3 teams, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Boston are the only teams that the Sabres can face. The Sabres can't finish 8th and Washington has clinched 1st, therefor the Sabres and Capitals wont meet in round one (thank god). The Sabres can finish 6th if they can gain a point on Montreal tomorrow. If so, they will face Boston. If not, the Sabres will finish 7th and face the winner of the Atlantic Division. The Penguins and Flyers are tied going into game #82, but the Flyers own the tiebreaker. So like the Sabres, the Penguins will have to gain a point on the Flyers if they hope to finish second.
In other words, if the Sabres finish 6th, they play Boston in round one.
If the Sabres finish 7th, they play Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.
If everything stays the same as it is now, the Eastern Conference Playoffs would look like this:
1. Washington vs. 8. Carolina
It seems like the Rangers are going to be the odd-team-out in the race for the playoffs. Based on Fridays results, The Rangers need to defeat the Devils and hope Carolina looses to Tampa Bay. Ovechkin vs. Staal would be a good first round matchup and Cam Ward is going to be the best goalie in the series. Carolina could upset Washington.
2. Philadelphia vs. 7. Buffalo
The Sabres and Flyers will play a very exciting series if they match up. The Sabres are streaking towards the playoffs, but the Flyer are sputtering in.
3. Boston vs. Montreal
This is the series that the league would like to see the most. We have talked about it on this blog and I haven't changed my mind about how intense I think this series would be.
4. Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay
Will Pittsburgh have Sidney Crosby for the playoffs?
The West has about 9,990 different playoff match-ups. More will be sorted out when I check back in tomorrow night. Chicago is in 8th place 1 point away from clinching. To make the playoffs, the Stars would need to win in regulation or overtime, and have the Black Hawks lose in regulation. If the Stars win in a shoot-out that will not get them into the playoffs.