It was a year that really needs no introduction to most Sabres fans. The 2006-07 season was without a doubt one of-if not the- most memorable season in the team’s history for its fans. The Sabres would shred the rest of the league en route to a league leading 53-22-7 record and a President’s Trophy winning 113 points. The Sabres would lead the league in goals with 308, being led in that category by budding superstar Tomas Vanek who had 43. In 2nd for scoring that year was Chris “Captain Clutch” Drury with 37. Goaltender Ryan Miller had a true breakout season, becoming one of the NHL’s elite netminders for years to come. Posting a save percentage of .91, he would allow 168 goals against on a team that placed 13th in that department.
This season would also see the emergence of wingers Clarke MacArthur and Drew Stafford, two players who enjoyed long careers in the National Hockey League. The Sabres had 6 players score over 20 goals, this being Tomas Vanek, Chris Drury, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Daniel Briere and Max Afinogenov. Feisty German Jochen Hecht would come close to making it 7, tallying 19 goals on the year. It seemed everyone had a place and played their part. This was evident when enforcers Andrew Peters, Adam Mair and a debuting Patrick Kaleta made their job title clear when they took part in a memorable brawl with Ottawa on February 22nd.
The optimism was never any higher in Buffalo for a Sabres team than it was in the 2007 season. The rallying cry became “One Team. One Goal”, a slogan used long before Chicago made it their own. Buffalo truly felt like “One Team” during this season. We were all Buffalo Sabres and the sense of pride and community was at an all time high. Chris Drury and Daniel Briere were a rockstar duo, co-captaining the Sabres to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. This tag-team would make coming from behind a routine during the year, a trend that would carry into the playoffs, all while providing a scoring threat not seen in Western New York since the Mogilny and LaFontaine days.
The Sabres would face the 8th seed Islanders who were making their 1st playoff appearance since 2004. New York had edged out Toronto on the last day of the season for the final playoff berth in the East. Buffalo made quick work of the men from Long Island, closing the series in 5 at the then HSBC Arena. Buffalo was poised for yet another clash with a team from New York, this time against the surprising Rangers. The Blueshirts were coming off a sweep of the Atlanta Thrashers and were led by such vets as Jaromir Jagr and Brenden Shanahan, as well as outstanding goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Sabres had their work cut out for them, and it would take until the last 10 seconds of regulation in Game 5 to salvage the city’s dream of a Stanley Cup.
Buffalo would win both Games 1 and 2 to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. New York would continue the trend of the home team winning, stealing games 3 and 4 back at Madison Square Garden. Game 4 did not come without controversy, as a last second Danny Briere wrap around that appeared to have crossed the goal line was called no goal. This allowed the Rangers to hold on to the 2-1 victory heading back to Buffalo with the series tied and all the momentum in their favor. The Sabres had only lost 3 games in a row twice in the regular season, and that would not change. Chris Drury would serve up one last dish of clutch, granting new life to the Sabres playoff chances.
“Chris Drury! Who else?! Who else?!”
Game 5 would be fought to a scoreless tie until a Martin Straka shot beat Ryan Miller over his glove side shoulder with just over 3 minutes to play. The goal would go to review and the game went on before the goal was confirmed. Buffalo had not been shut out in the regular season, and Chris Drury was determined to make sure that stood. With 15 seconds remaining there would be a faceoff to Lundqvist left. Upon the drop the puck was knocked into the corner. As seconds ticked by the teams battled for the puck behind the goal. Drury would eventually work the puck to Tim Connolly who shot a wrister from the slot only to be stifled by Lundqvist. The rebound popped back to the right faceoff circle and scooped up by Drury once more, who snapped a perfectly placed shot as he turned, right past Lundqvist on his glove side, and Buffalo went bananas. This was a microcosm of the season. Timely goals, unwavering fight and legendary calls from RJ are only a few of the elements this moment had. The fans knew as well as the Sabres did, however, that there was still another period to play. Sudden death OT was next, and certain Soviet born speedster was ready to blow the roof off the place.
By the time Overtime started the fans were still reeling from what they witnessed just 15 minutes prior. Drury’s miracle had picked up an entire city that once more thought it was time to think about the offseason for one of its beloved teams. Disappointment would be cast aside for the time being, as the Sabres had been given a 2nd life by the hockey gods. Buffalo would receive a power play with 15:32 remaining in the first sudden death period. On the ice were Derek Roy and Maxim Afinogenov, two of the Sabres finest puck movers from the previous 2 seasons. Just 30 seconds into the man advantage Derek Roy would cycle the puck to Dmitri Kalinin, the big body Russian D-man, who would then move it to Afinogenov. Rifling a slap-shot from the blue line, Max’s shot slid through Lundqvist and across the goal line, winning the game that seemed lost just moments ago. The Earth stood still for a moment in Buffalo. As Max glided stomach first across center ice, Sabres fans simultaneously screamed with joy and renewed hope. Buffalo took the 3-2 series lead back to New York looking to end the series. They would do just that, closing the series with a 5-4 victory on MSG ice.
The Sabres would go on to face the hated Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Final. This was the Sabres 2nd straight appearance in the championship round. Things would not go as swimmingly as they had the year before against the same opponent. Buffalo would be steamrolled in Game 1 5-2 and defeated 4-3 in 2 overtimes in game 2. In Game 3 in Ottawa the Sabres remarkable feat of avoiding being shutout would cease to exist. Ray Emery pitched a 1-0 shutout on a dejected Sabres team, a feeling that reverberated throughout the city. The Sabres would avoid elimination in the 5th game and eventually push game 5 to overtime before Daniel Alfredsson’s wrist shot brought the Sabres dream season to an end and sent the Ottawa Senators to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. The fans at HSBC Arena were forced to watch their most hated rival pose with the trophy they expected to be theirs all season.
Things would only get harder for Buffalo after this game. July 1st brought the departure of co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury-the heart and soul of the team- to the Flyers and Rangers. Sabres fans were forced to watch as their hearts were pulled out by management that sat back and did nothing. The Oilers would make a move on RFA Tomas Vanek, but the Sabres would match the offer to avoid complete disaster. Buffalo would only sign 2 free agents, goaltender Jocelyn Thibault and forward Nolan Pratt. No Sabres players won awards or were even nominated. The Sabres wouldn’t make the playoffs for another 3 seasons despite having a competitive young team.
What are your impressions now of the 2006-07 season? Where were you and what were you doing when Chris and Max scored? Was the season a complete bust or was it successful? Send feedback to @SabresFanatics or to me at @LetsGoBills716 on Twitter, and come back every week for more Sabres Moment retrospectives.