By Tim Schmitt
For a guy who’d committed a tripping penalty in overtime of an NHL playoff game, Jay McKee sure got a surprising reward.
McKee was the first to greet rookie Jason Pominville after the rookie winger scored perhaps the most memorable goal in Sabres history — certainly the most memorable in a decade — as Buffalo eliminated Ottawa in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
McKee had been sent off for tripping Daniel Alfredsson 40 seconds earlier. Then he watched from the penalty box as Pominville motored around Alfredsson and tucked a shot past Ray Emery.
“I saw him get around on the outside and my eyes just widened, and all of a sudden it was in and I got out of there as fast as I could,” McKee told the Associated Press. “I looked to my right and he was coming right for me so I just gave him a big bear hug and we got clobbered by the rest of the guys. It was a pretty neat feeling.”
The goal capped an improbable five-game ousting of preseason Cup favorite Ottawa and leading play-by-play man to the famous line, “Now do you believe?”
Sabres fall in Conference final
As fun a Pominville’s goal was, a 4-2 loss in Carolina in deprived Buffalo of its second trip the Cup finals in eight years.
The Sabres went into the third period with a 2-1 edge, but Doug Weight tied it less than two minutes in to the final stanza. Rod Brind’Amour’s goal from Justin Williams and Cory Stillman proved to be the difference as the Hurricanes went on to win the Cup.
Brind’Amour said following the game that his play had been lackluster before the goal.
“I should have been there sooner,” he told Gannett News Service. “The guys (Justin Williams and Cory Stillman) were fighting in front, and the puck just laid there.”
Buffalo opens season with 10 straight wins
If the Sabres had pent up anger over falling in the seventh game of the conference finals, they did well in taking it out on their first 10 opponents the following season.
Buffalo opened with a 3-2 victory in Carolina, staying in the dressing room while the Hurricanes unveiled their Cup banner. Lindy Ruff’s troops then ripped off nine more, culminating with a 3-0 victory over the New York Islanders and former coach Ted Nolan. Atlanta finally beat the Sabres in a shootout on Oct. 28.
Controversy over new logo
Many swore they’d never buy it. That it wouldn’t catch on. That a new logo the team planned to uncover would be a flop.
So the Sabres, with Managing Partner Larry Quinn trying to appease the masses, announced that Buffalo would play 15 games in their old blue-and-while uniforms. But when the new logos were finally unveiled, the success came quickly — Buffalo’s new jerseys quickly rocketed to the top of the NHL’s best seller list.
Sabres stun Ottawa in opener
Pominville’s goal capped a doozy of a series, but Game 1 might have been the most exciting. The Sabres scored a short-handed goal with 1:37 left to tie, gave up a power-play goal with 1:13 left, then tied it again on Tim Connolly’s goal sent the game to overtime.
It didn’t take long for Buffalo to score in the extra session — Chris Drury capitalized on Anton Volchenkov’s miscue and beat Emery with a wrist shot.
Tim Connolly’s status
He signed a lucrative 3-year contract over the summer, but Tim Connolly has yet to play a minute for the Sabres this season. There’s little doubt he’d be a huge offensive asset if healthy, but now, after a new prognosis that said Connolly’s concussion problems might be caused by a disc problem in his neck, a target of February has been set. Stay tuned.
Contact group sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, Ext. 2266.