Another Buffalo Sabres season is heading to a disappointing conclusion, and Sabres fans have to look back a decade or so to find the last time that their team were relevant in the playoff conversation.
But while NHL and NY sports betting fans will not be rushing to wager on Buffalo any time soon, it is worth remembering that these things are cyclical and that there is always reason to be optimistic in this volatile and ever-changing league. And though they may be struggling now, there have been plenty of times when the Sabres were a significant factor in the NHL.
The Sabres appeared out of nowhere to make a run that almost took them to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to lose in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. Ryan Miller and Chris Drury were just two of the stars of this great squad that might have easily won the Cup but suffered a heartbreaking defeat in Game 7 in which they left everything on the ice. They would have met Edmonton in the finals if they had beaten Carolina, and would surely have been favorites for that one.
The season began with a 10-game winning streak and ended with the President’s Trophy. This was a season notable for Daniel Briere, Ryan Miller, and Brian Campbell all earning a place in the All-Star game, and for the memorable brawl against Ottawa in December.
In the playoffs, the Sabres overcame the Islanders in five games which set up a second-round series with the Rangers. That series featured the famous Game 5 overtime victory and ended with a Sabres win in six games. Sadly the season came to an end in the Conference Finals when the Sabres lost to Ottawa, suffering three one-goal defeats and a pair of losses in overtime.
The franchise was only five years old when Buffalo made their second playoff appearance and reached their first-ever Stanley Cup Final, where they took on the Philadelphia Flyers. The Sabres fought hard but ultimately lost out in a tight six-game series. That was the season when Rick Martin, Rene Robert, Don Luce, and Jerry Korab all featured in the All-Star game, and in which Don Luce earned the Bill Masterson Trophy for sportsmanship.
The Sabres missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons after sliding to the bottom of the NHL in the mid-1980s. They bounced back in 1987-88, driven by youthful players like first-round selection Pierre Turgeon, Dave Andreychuk, and Phil Housley, as they moved from last in the NHL to first. For supporters who had just seen Sabres icon Gilbert Perreault retire the previous season, this group of youthful players offered optimism for a brighter future for the franchise.
Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny teamed up for a historic season in LaFontaine’s first full season as a Sabre, with LaFontaine setting a franchise record with 148 points and Mogilny scoring an incredible 76 goals. LaFontaine finished second in the league MVP voting behind Mario Lemieux.
Buffalo had a solid season until the end, when they dropped seven straight games to enter the playoffs. However, they then won a playoff series for the first time in a decade, sweeping the Bruins, with Rick Jeanneret’s iconic May Day call in Game 4. In a four-game series, the Sabres were defeated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadians. Three of the games were decided by a score of 4-3, while the last three went to overtime.
This season was notable for the Sabres moving into a new arena, changing their team colors, and claiming their first Divisional title in 16 seasons. It helped that the Sabres roster included the NHL’s best goalie in Dominik Hasek, who became only the second goalie to win the MVP award. Michael Peca claimed the award for best two-way forward, Ted Nolan was named Coach of the Year and the Sabres registered their first-ever Game 7 win when they beat the Senators in overtime.
The Sabres made it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 24 seasons, with Hasek once again playing a key role. The season itself was less explosive than the previous year’s campaign, but Buffalo really got going in the playoffs, defeating the Senators in a sweep and the Bruins to set up a clash with the Maple Leafs. Buffalo came through that challenge in five games, but their good run came to an end in the finals, when they lost out to the Dallas Stars.