Buffalo was riding a wave of momentum into the 2nd round after defeating the Flyers in six games. The Sabres asserted their will on Philly, twice peppering their old rival with seven or more goals. Though a playoff series victory is a great start to build momentum, nothing could fully prepare the Sabres for what was coming next.
The 2005-06 season was the Senators best season in the franchise’s then thirteen year existence. Tallying 52 wins and 113 points, the Sens won the Northeast division by three points. Ottawa dominated the season series against the Sabres, winning five of eight games and scoring thirty-five goals. In their 2nd meeting of the season Ottawa defeated the Sabres 10-4 on HSBC Arena ice. The Sabres were a clear cut underdog in Round 2, but some experts had chose the Sabres to complete the upset.
Ottawa was led by forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. Together the trio formed one of the highest scoring lines in recent memory, combining for 296 points. Their depth wouldn’t stop there as below them was a cavalcade of production from the likes of Brian Smolinski, Mike Fisher, Martin Havlat, Antoine Vermette and Patrick Eaves. On defense was Zdeno Chara, Chris Phillips and Wade Redden. Their options at goaltender were Ray Emery and Dominik Hasek. Does this paint a good enough picture of just how stacked this team was?
Game 1 was in Ottawa’s Corel Centre. The Sabres shocked the Senators at home with a monumental 7-6 victory that saw the Sabres tie the game twice in the final 1:38 of the 3rd period. Tim Connolly sent the game to overtime with a tying goal with only 11 seconds remaining.
Each team had two goals a piece in all three periods but it would be the Sabres who got the last laugh in overtime when Anton Volchenkov gave the puck away to Mike Grier who found Chris Drury for the winning goal just 18 seconds into the extra time.
Game 2 brought less scoring but the same result as Ryan Miller stopped 43 of 44 shots to steal a 2-1 victory heading to Buffalo. The Sabres were starting a run that nobody had foreseen. Game 2 didn’t come without a loss for the Sabres lineup however as Center Tim Connolly left in the first minute with a concussion. Connolly had 11 points in the Sabres first seven playoff games. The injury would sideline the silk-handed forward until the final days of the 06-07 season and it can be argued he was never the same player after the hit.
Game 3 saw the series shift to Western New York. In front of another sell-out crowd at HSBC Arena, Buffalo would capture a 3-2 victory in overtime from a deflated Senators team. J.P. Dumont, the 5th year Sabre played the role of hero when he scored five minutes into the first overtime period with a knuckle puck thanks to a timely screen by Paul Gaustad. No matter what Ottawa did it never seemed to keep the Sabres down. The Senators managed to tie the game twice but were never able to steal the lead from the Sabres.
Ottawa was able to grab their first win of the series in Game 4 with a 2-1 victory. Ray Emery turned aside 29 Buffalo shots in what was his finest performance of the series.
The Senators seemed to seize the momentum come Game 5 when they were able to force the game into overtime follwing a Brian Pothier tying goal with six minutes remaining. The 3rd overtime period set the stage for a piece of Sabres history and for an unexpected hero to make his name known.
Buffalo would take a penalty a minute and a half into the overtime period, giving the Senators lethal powerplay time to operate. Rookie Jason Pominville, who had been waived earlier in the season, took the puck off a clearing attempt from Henrik Tallinder in his own end the length of the ice with only Daniel Alfredsson to beat. Pominville took advantage of the mismatch and glided past the forward and slipped an off-balance shot past Ray Emery. Pominville’s goal was the first shorthanded overtime goal in NHL playoff history and sent the Sabres to their first Eastern Conference Final since 1999.
Coupled with Rick Jeanneret’s goose-bump inducing “Now do you believe? Now do you believe?” and the excitement of advancing to a championship round, this became one of the most iconic moments in Sabres history.
Buffalo was soon to be set for a meeting with the Carolina Hurricanes, a championship round that was unthinkable prior to the season’s start. Carolina shared a similar story with the Sabres as not many predicted them to do anything except finish last. The Sabres were ready to push the Hurricanes to their limit, and it would take seven games to decide the Eastern Conference’s representative in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.
What are your memories of this series? Tweet me @LetsGoBills716 or @SabresFanatics to tell us where you were when this series was going on.