Senators 5, Sabres 2
I’d like to think this series right here might “save hockey,” in the sense of giving it a broader cultural relevance again. If Game 1 is any indication, I’m sorely mistaken. Here’s the problem: Buffalo had a lead, then squandered it (I’m not sure what else the city of Buffalo does, athletically), and the Senators ultimately won by three goals. This game, mind you, was in Buffalo, thus shifting home-ice advantage. The Sabres dropped a game at home to the Islanders in Round 1, but that’s The Islanders, and this is The Senators, and there’s a big difference aside from quality of generic nickname.
Since I didn’t write up my Eastern Conference Preview yesterday (sue me; I was at Spider Man 3), I’ll offer it up now, by way of a story from the way back. When the Red Wings and Avalanche were predominant, year-in-and-year-out rivals, they were playing in (I believe) the Western Conference Finals in the late 1990s or early 2000s. In one game, Claude Lemieux laid an absolutely disgusting hit into the boards on Kris Draper. Gary Thorne, calling the game, said (with limited emotion, which is odd for him calling hockey): “Far boards. Draper. (Pause) Draper’s hurt. (Pause) Oh, Draper’s hurt. He was leveled by Claude Lemieux.” It’s funny if you hear it, and also if you see it, because the ref just grabs Lemieux and shoves him towards the penalty box.
The relevance of that story is simple: every time I think about this series, I can hear Thorne in my head saying: “It wasn’t blood. It was paint.” No, no, that’s not it. I can hear him saying: “Far boards. Drury. Drury’s hurt.” Chris Drury, the lifeblood of the Sabres in many respects (notably being a guy consistently associated with winning, which they aren’t), is going to get absolutely leveled by someone in this series, and that’s gonna cause another brawl the size of the one they had in February. As Lindy Ruff screamed at Bryan Murray during a recent meeting between those teams, “Do that (expletive) to some hack. Don’t go after our (expletive) captain.”
Point is, this series will get personal. Once it does, I think the Sabres can show enough fire to get themselves back to a Cup – hell, they need this more than any sporting city needs anything right now, I’d argue – and contend with whoever I think is winning the West, which you’ll learn tomorrow. I’d say it takes ’em 7, and hopefully Game 7 is epic, and blood is all over the ice. Then we know hockey’s back.
[Ted Bauer will be covering the NHL playoffs for us this year. You can find more of Ted’s work at A Price Above Bip Roberts.]