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Sabres and Senators At It Again

Admit it! You wanted this matchup…from the time these two clubs stopped trading blows in a free-for-all brawl here in February, you wanted to see these guys again. The chance to land a real knockout punch on these guys when it really mattered was too tempting to think about.

Beginning May 10 we get what we wished for. A showdown between the two finest teams the Eastern Conference has to offer gets underway as the Senators come to Buffalo looking to avenge their postseason elimination of a year ago (and in 1997…and 1999) at the hands of the Sabres.

A rundown of the Sens

For the tale of the tape, the Sens built their club with speed and skill, similar to what the Sabres have done. While maybe not capable of rolling four lines out like Buffalo, there is no doubt that Ottawa’s group of forwards is very deep. And their top line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson is as good as it gets in the NHL. There is an injury to report as right winger Patrick Eaves is still recovering from injuries suffered from a…umm…clean hit he took in the first round against Pittsburgh.

No Zdeno Chara to vent our hostilities on this season, but veteran performers Wade Redden and Chris Phillips head up a very respectable blue line corps and feature an up-and-comer in Anton Volchenkov.

Ray Emery remains the man between the pipes for Ottawa. He struggled during last year’s series with Buffalo, and with that in mind the Sens went out and got Martin Gerber from Carolina in the offseason. The acquisition must have lit a fire under Emery as he was able to retain the starting spot for the season and has begun to develop into solid netminder.

And as a special note: The Sens present their own pest in Chris Neil, who will be forever remembered as a the man who laid a “clean, hockey hit” on Chris Drury on February 22. And from there the rivalry intensified.

The regular season record fell in Ottawa’s favor, with the Sens taking five of the eight regular season matches. That’s the best record any NHL club had against the Sabres this season.

The rivalry factor

Unlike the Rangers and Islanders, the Senators are a club that will bring emotion to this series prior to the first drop of the puck. But what do the participants have to say about it all?

Thomas Vanek seems to be up for it, saying, “Obviously we know we have a big rivalry with Ottawa. We always have tough games against them throughout the season, and it’s going to be a good series…we’re looking forward to it.”

From the Ottawa perspective, Jason Spezza chimed in, “I think definitely when you play a team as much as we have played each other in the last couple of years there’s going to be some rivalries built.” Yep, nothing but nice, nice words coming out of the respective club’s mouthpieces. We’ll see what gets said after game one.

Our predictions (and once again AV editor Geoff Kelly gives his take):

Peter: Ottawa in 5

Geoff: Buffalo in 6

Andrew: Buffalo in 7

So who left early last Friday?

Much was made at last Friday’s game five of the spectators who left the arena in the closing seconds of the game. It is a sports fan’s worst nightmare: You give up hope on the team and leave in despair, and as you’re walking out the building you hear the thunderous roar of the crowd. By then it is too late…you have now left the arena and cannot re-enter.

Such was the dilemma encountered by more than a few patrons who left their seats and departed the arena with 16 seconds left in the game during a pause for a bench timeout.

Of course we know what happened:Chris Drury scored with seven seconds left to tie the game, and Max Afinogenov completed the improbable finish with his overtime goal. This could easily rank as one of the greatest games in franchise history, yet some people who paid big bucks to buy their seats didn’t get to watch history being made in person.

Sabres Public Relations Director Mike Gilbert stated that once people leave the arena, they are not allowed re-admittance into the facility. “This is a policy that been in place all year long and we have to enforce it for security reasons,” said Gilbert. “Even our smoking area outside Perry Street is tightly corralled and controlled so fans just can’t walk around the streets and walk back in.”

While more than a few disgruntled fans called in to local talk radio shows and posted onto message boards and blogs, Gilbert said he was not personally aware of any complaints from people who may have tried to come back into the arena. “We have 5,000 people outside on the Plaza. How do we know who left and who is just trying to walk in without a ticket?”

When asked if he could impart any advice, Gilbert replied, “I don’t think there’s a lesson here. If fans choose to leave, they paid their money, it’s their ticket and that’s their right to do and we’re fine with that.”

For future information—the line of demarcation are the doors to the pavilion. Once you’re out the doors—that is the point of no return.


■ Less than 24 hours after the Sabres’ amazing comeback in game five, our Buffalo Bisons made a bit of their own history at Dunn Tire Park, plating nine runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Pawtucket Red Sox in a wild finish. And no, Chris Drury did not pinch hit for the Bisons, although he did play baseball once upon a time and probably could have if called upon.

■ Someone pointed out to us that Taro had one of his stats wrong…that the Sabres were actually 3-10 instead of 4-10 in best-of-seven series tied after four games. Taro simply replied that he was calling his shot on the Rangers series without jinxing the Sabres by saying so publicly.

■ Do Leafs fans actually hate the Sens? We’ll find out this weekend when scores of Canadian fans come across the border for the games in Buffalo. Will folks in blue and white pull for the black and gold? We say a true Leafs fan would not.