It’s that time of the year. Time to reminisce and look forward to the future. I’m taking a look at those bright spots of the season, the top 10 games of the year.
#10: February 10, 2012 – Stars 2 @ Sabres 3 (SO)
This game was a nail-biter and Buffalo needed almost all of regulation to get the game tied up. Derek Roy scored in the final minute to tie the game, while Nathan Gerbe’s nifty move won the game in the shootout. Thomas Vanek scored the other regulation goal in his return to the lineup. Even Dallas’ goals seemed fun to watch throughout and Kari Lehtonen was on his game. It also feels good every time Buffalo beats Dallas.
#9: December 3, 2011 – Sabres 3 @ Predators 2
This game may not have been high scoring like some of the others on this list and it’s outcome wasn’t as exciting, but Buffalo was able to match up against a top level team and come out on top. Not only did they win on the scoreboard, but they were physical and defended their goaltender unlike what had previously been done throughout the season. This game was a step in the right direction for the Sabres.
#8: March 3, 2012 – Sabres 5 @ Canucks 3
Anytime you can make a trade with a team and then immediately beat that team feels good. When you crush that team, it feels better. When Christian Ehrhoff scores against his former club it feels great! Alex Sulzer made his first Sabres appearance. Several Sabres made Marc-Andre Gragnani look foolish. Buffalo jumped out to a 4-0 lead. The only blights on the game were Zack Kassian’s 2-point night and the end of Ryan Miller’s shutout streak.
#7: February 19, 2012 – Penguins 2 @ Sabres 6
Anytime you hang 6 goals on a team is good. Buffalo was consistently able to do this against good NHL opponents. Pittsburgh started poorly, allowing Buffalo to grab a 3-goal lead. Just when it seemed like the Sabres were going to cough up that lead Drew Stafford scored and it was off to the races for the Sabres. Derek Roy had a pair of goals, Jason Pominville had 3 points and Christian Ehrhoff tied a career record with 3 assists.
#6: February 29, 2012 – Sabres 2 @ Ducks 0
You can’t ask for much more in a game than this (and yet it’s number 6). This was actually my favorite game of the year. Buffalo jumped out to a 2 goal lead with a strike from Derek Roy and a beautiful deflection by Brad Boyes. Miller looked spectacular, earning the first of what would be 2 straight shutouts. Then there was the fighting. Corey Tropp, Robyn Regehr and Mike Weber all dropped the gloves, but perhaps the most exciting for Sabres fans (and dismaying for those who don’t like fighting) was the battle after the final whistle which saw first time scrappers Jordan Leopold and Tyler Myers each find partners and throw knuckles.
It was the first game of the season and everything was all unicorns and rainbows. The team was starting the season overseas. Almost everyone was healthy. Ville Leino scored. The beat Anaheim handily. It was all looking good. This game gave fans a great feeling. Too bad this level of play did continue all season.
#5: November 8, 2011 – Jets 5 @ Sabres 6 (OT)
Another game with everything. An incredible bout between Cody McCormick and Tanner Glass got the blood flowing. The offense followed suit. Corey Tropp notched his first NHL goal, while Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy grabbed two a piece. Roy and Jason Pominville each had 3-point efforts. Perhaps an under-appreciated factor was Ryan Miller’s ability to play a full game after being yanked 3 days prior.
#4: March 19, 2012 – Sabres 7 @ Lightning 3
Buffalo’s largest offensive output of the season came in mid-March when the lit up the Tampa Bay Lightning for 7 goals. The line of Foligno-Stafford-Ennis remained hot and garnered 7 total points with Marcus Foligno scoring 2 goals. The Captain raised the Population of Pominville by two that night as well. Cody Hodgson also managed to earn his first two points as a member of the Sabres organization.
#3: March 27, 2012 – Sabres 5 @ Capitals 1
Just over a week after their thrashing of Tampa Bay, Buffalo rolled into Washington in desperation mode. Cody McCormick scored his first goal of the season midway through the first period and Buffalo soon built a 3-goal lead. The tide soon turned toward the Capitals. While Buffalo did not make the playoffs, this and game #1 were playoff like games that made sure everyone got their money’s worth.
#2: February 8, 2012 – Bruins 0 @ Sabres 6
The Sabres may have scored 7 on the Lightning, by they won by the largest margin early in February. With a beautiful set up for a goal from Ville Leino that was followed by a dazzling Tyler Ennis rush, Buffalo’s offense was clicking on all cylinders. A spirited fight from Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta was willing to drop the mitts with the much heavier Milan Lucic. This was not the best night of the season though, not by a long shot.
#1: April 3, 2012 – Maple Leafs 5 @ Sabres 6 (OT)
Far and away the most exciting game of the season, if not the young decade. It all began 12 seconds into the game when Marcus Foligno separated Carl Gunnarson from the puck, his helmet and his shoulder. Shortly thereafter Braden McNabb nailed Matt Frattin and then picked his first NHL fight with tough guy Jay Rosehill and acquitted himself nicely. McNabb continued to throw the body around and Foligno threw Frattin around in his first NHL fight. Jordan Leopold was the hero, sending the game to overtime, where Derek Roy completed the inevitable comeback and completed one of the greatest games in recent memory.
Yes this game was a loss, but it was a win in the eyes of Sabres players, fans and most importantly, goaltenders. This game was feisty from the very beginning. Paul Gaustad tried to exact revenge on Milan Lucic (see: Top 10 Worst Games) and Robyn Regehr ended up scrapping with Zdeno Chara. It was a close game and even though Buffalo lost, it was a fun game to watch.