I really wasn’t prepared for how much more awesome the playoffs would feel. Oh sure, you guys kept telling me, but I guess I had to experience it for myself. Playoff hockey in person is just astounding.
First of all, the crowd. Wow.
I’ve bristled a bit all season when I’ve heard people bagging on the HSBC crowd for being too quiet. As most of you know, this was my first year as a season ticket holder, so even if the crowd was a little subdued compared to previous years, I wanted to love it, and I did. I loved HSBC Arena and the people I shared the games with this season, passionately and with all my heart. So, when people kept telling me, “You won’t believe how much wilder the arena can get during the playoffs,” a small part of me was thinking, “Oh please, that’s just the old ‘everything-was-better-a-few-years-ago’ Buffalo thing, talking” I kind of didn’t believe that the crowd would suddenly change, as if a flip had been switched, just because it was playoff time.
But that’s exactly how it was. It was as if a switch got flipped.
I think Jessica said it best in the comments a few days ago: “This is the best time of year for fans to lead with their hearts and not their heads.” That’s exactly how if felt last night. All of a sudden, everyone was on the same page, cheering for the Sabres. Everyone was cheering with their hearts instead of their heads. It was loud and raucous and wonderful. The atmosphere was incredibly special to me, and even though I’ve been to nearly 50 games over the last three seasons , I think last night was the game I became a real citizen of HSBC Arena.
Second of all, the game. In the immortal words of Rick Jeanneret, “WOW. DOUBLE WOW.”
There were times last night when I was thinking, “WHO IS THIS TEAM?! Who are they…and can I marry them ALL?” A flip was switched with the Sabres, as well as in the crowd. Playoff hockey really is a different game. It’s wilder, and harder, and all around MORE AWESOME, which seems weird to say, because frankly, I think regular season hockey is pretty damn awesome already.
Of course I’ve watched the playoffs before, so I know what playoff hockey looks like, but to suddenly see the Sabres, my Sabres, playing real playoff hockey like they meant it, well, it was super cool. My doubts about how the Sabres would perform in the playoffs were always there just because I couldn’t imagine them playing as hard as, say, the Pens and the Caps played last postseason. But now, after seeing Jason Pominville (!) lay a hit on Chara with my own two eyes, I’m a believer. I was really impressed.
The Sabres have looked like a playoff team all season, but last night they looked like a team in the playoffs, and it made me incredibly happy.
I can’t believe I get to go back tomorrow.
A few thoughts about the game and last night in general:
– I’ve always booed Chara, mostly because it cracked me up. Truthfully, I’ve actually always liked him, and I really only booed him because it cracked me up. (Robin and I referred to him for years as “The Guy We Boo For No Apparent Reason.”) But things are different now. What a douche. Last night I booed that guy with genuine malice in my heart. I will do so again tomorrow.
– A lot of forwards had impressive games, but the one who really amazed me was Thomas Vanek. He had a few shifts last night that reminded me of last year, when some nights he was the only guy I could see on the ice. I LOVE it when Vanek is the only player I can see on the ice. I love it so so so much. If Atlas is back…..*stops to ponder what it might mean for this postseason if Atlas really is back*……man oh man.
– Last night during the first period for awhile I was thinking, “Gee, the Bruins are hitting REALLY hard, I don’t know if the Sabres can deal.” And then, a few minutes later I realized that the Sabres were dealing. Quite capably, in fact. I was actually impressed with the Bruins last night (rightly or wrongly, I think of them as a passionless team), but I was MORE impressed with the Sabres willingness and ability to push back. Screw you, Bruins!
– Derek Roy played a terrific game.
– Toni Lydman is the best.
– I heard Julien’s postgame comments in the car on the way home, and I was very unimpressed. Basically all he said was, “Well, I thought we played well enough to win. Hopefully we’ll win on Saturday.” Thems fightin’ words!
– I also heard Ryan Miller’s postgame comments on the car on the way home, and I was, as usual, very impressed. The thing that he said that I loved the most was about the second period (which was fairly puke-tastic). He said something like (I’m paraphrasing), “If we do this right, we’ve got two more months of hockey. Not every period is going to go our way. The important thing is that we were way better in the third.” That’s pretty much how I felt about the second period too. Yeah, the second period was WAY lame (that’s where having Crunchy comes in SUPER handy), but they pulled themselves back together, and they WON THAT SHIT. The Sabres are now 31-0 when entering the 3rd period with a lead this season. 31-0. That’s THIRTY ONE WINS, and ZERO losses. This team knows how to lock it down.
– Sabretooth rappelled from the rafters, you guys! I’ve always assumed that maybe it was actually Daniel Briere in the Sabretooth suit back when he regularly rappelled, because that tradition seemed to disappear after the Briere-era. It’s something I’ve always been sad I missed. Was it always just a playoff thing? At any rate, I might have squealed out loud when I saw the spotlight on Sabretooth way up there.
– Raffi Torres! All of a sudden! Raffi Torres!
– I have two minor quibbles about the crowd last night: 1. I DISAPPROVE of goalie taunting until the goalie has DONE SOMETHING DUMB. For goodness sakes, people were busting out the “Tuuuuka, Tuuuuka,” when the game was still scoreless. I didn’t think Rask did anything that warranted a goalie taunt last night, but I will admit that in the third period when the score was locked at 2-1, I did feel a strong urge to join in. “Tuuuuuka, Tuuuuuuka,” seems like a VERY satisfying thing to chant. Hopefully he’ll have a bad game tomorrow and I’ll be able to taunt him with a clear conscience. 2. I realize that chanting U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A is really just our way of chanting “We love you Crunchy!” but the Olympics are over, AND BOSTON IS IN THE UNITED STATES. We need a better, “Yay for Crunchy” cheer. (May I suggest, “Yay for Crunchy!”)
– Tyler Ennis really is good. He came close to two highlight reel goals last night. One of these nights he’s going to score a beauty.