Thursday, May 04, 2006

"...then it was bang, bang, bang. It was over."

The quote above was made by Philadelphia's coach Ken Hitchcock after he and his team were stunned in Game 6. The Sabres had no difficulty skating circles around the Flyers in their 7-1 victory, which clinched the series. Flyers fans fell silent early on, and many left the Wachovia Center during the third period. It was quite perfect.

And now we've moved on to Ottawa to face the Senators for the Eastern conference semi-finals. Ottawa is clearly favored in this series based on their speed and scoring ability (highest total number of regular-season goals in the NHL); most predictions say the Sens in 6 or 7 games, so it should be an exciting series regardless of outcome. Regrettably, a previously planned drive to New York prevented me from catching Game 1 last Friday, via TV or radio (or TV on the Radio). Instead, I learned the score in strange, uneven increments. One voicemail from a friend (who I haven't spoken to in half a year) and his wife from a sports bar back in Buffalo, asking where I was, stating the score as 1-0, Buffalo. Much later, a message from my mom, wondering if I arrived, adding that we had just tied the game at 6-6 thus forcing an overtime period. There was an immediate follow-up message to this, reassuring me that we just scored in OT and stating the final score as "Ottawa-6, Buffalo-7. It's just great."

The next morning, I found out how great it really was. Each team scored twice in each period; Buffalo started off with a goal in the first; Ottawa led five times during the game, only to have it tied by the Sabres. The final 1:37 of regulation resulted in three goals; after Buffalo tying the game at 18:23, the Senators scored at 18:47. The game appeared over, with a final score of 6-5 Ottawa, until Connolly scored with 10.7 sec remaining. It only took 18 seconds of OT for the Sabres to win on a goal by Chris Drury [who was the subject of a touching NYT article last week (*sniff*)]. Maybe I'll have to plan more road trips for the remainder of this series.

Certainly, this type of game is exciting for us fans. Yet if you think about it, countless mistakes must occur for both teams to score so often. Poor goaltending is something to consider (Ottawa's Emery allowed 7 out of only 23 shots; Miller let in 6 out of 33 shots against Buffalo). Sabres' coach Lindy Ruff summed it up plainly, "I don't think we played particularly well." True, but they controlled the plays that mattered most, which makes for entertaining games. I hope Game 2 in Ottawa on Monday night is just as exciting. Few would have guessed the Sabres would win the series opener on the Senators home ice; a two-game lead heading home for Games 3-4 would be unexpected and especially lovely.


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