BUFFALO — Enough already, I give.
I’ve tried, sometimes begrudgingly, to stay focused on the fact that Stanley Cups aren’t won in October, and that these Buffalo Sabres will have to perform miracles when the talk has turned to the new Thursday at the Square lineup.
Tried to remind fans that the Ottawa Senators also seemed invincible through the first few months last season.
Tried to rationalize that a winning streak to start the season isn’t the same since the advent of 4-on-4 overtime and the shootout.
I’m done trying.
During Saturday night’s battle of the league’s best two teams, statistically speaking, the Sabres came out flat. Ales Kotalik looked like he was stuck in a Grand Island marsh. Thomas Vanek, despite a second-period goal, thought this was last year’s postseason — and should have again been in the press box.
But through it all, those crazy kids found another way to leave you sweating, squirming and ultimately smiling.
This is as fun as NHL hockey gets.
Even when Vanek’s shootout attempt rung off the crossbar and over the net, meaning the Sabres’ streak was over, you still got a sense that there’s something special happening in downtown Buffalo. That days like this, where Buffalo ends up on the short end of the stick, will be few and far between.
When Ilya Kovalchuk, man-child that he is, snapped a wrister past Ryan Miller in the third to give Atlanta a 4-3 edge, the Sabres didn’t fret.
Jochen Hecht, who took a puck in the grill two days prior, realized he was falling behind in the Sabres’ scoring race. Hecht’s goal off the rebound of a Jason Pominville shot tied it with just a few minutes remaining, and the tentative HSBC crowd, waiting for something to cheer about, sprung to life.
The overtime, too, was as moving an experience as possible. With an NHL record hanging in the balance, the Sabres buzzed around Kari Lehtonen, playing keepaway from one of the most talented squads in the league.
Surprisingly, a shootout didn’t work out for Buffalo. Lehtonen stoned Daniel Briere and Max Afinogenov before Vanek just missed.
But it almost seemed anti-climactic. As the Sabres stopped for a curtain call, waving their sticks to cheering fans — after a loss — I realized there’s no room for rationalization, criticism or disbelieving.
Rides like this don’t come along often.
Buckle in. And just enjoy.
Contact Group Sports Editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, Ext. 2266 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BUFFALO — Enough already, I give.
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