n THE STORY: After the previous National Hockey League season was lost to a lock out, not many fans of the Buffalo Sabres knew what to expect in the new-era NHL. Questions were raised after the team, which finished last place in the Northeast Division in 2004, made moves to get rid of high profile — and high-priced — players such as Miroslav Satan and Alexi Zhitnik. Fans were also unsure how young goalie Ryan Miller would respond to being a starter in the NHL.
It didn’t take long for the speedy Sabres to establish themselves as a contender behind the strong play of Miller and such players as Maxim Afinogenov and Daniel Briere. Fans quickly responded with excitement building to a fever pitch as the season wrapped up and the playoffs began.
n THE RUN: After finishing the season with a 52-24-6 record, the Sabres battled Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs, finishing off the Flyers in six games, winning Game 5 3-0 and Game 6 in Philly 7-1.
In the second round, the Sabres faced Northeast Division nemesis Ottawa and Game 1 was unforgettable. One of the most remarkable games in the Sabres’ history, in the final two minutes of regulation the Sabres tied the game at 5 on a shorthanded goal by Derek Roy, with 97 seconds left in the game. The Senators quickly regained the lead 24 seconds later as Bryan Smolinski scored on the power play, but the Sabres managed to tie the game again at 6 on a goal by Tim Connolly with just 11 seconds left. Fans weren’t in their seats long in overtime as Chris Drury scored the game winner in just 18 seconds. The Senators were eventually eliminated in five games.
The Sabres faced the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. The series went seven games with the Sabres dropping the final game 4-2. Carolina went on to win the Stanley Cup.
n WHAT’S NEXT: After opening this season with a NHL record-tying 10 game winning streak, expectations for this year’s playoffs are already high. As of Friday night, the Sabres held a 25-7-1 record in the Northeast Division Conference, good for first place.