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Flashback – April 22nd, 2006

April 22nd, 2006 was one to remember in the history of the Buffalo Sabres. After three losing seasons by the Sabres and a year-long lockout, HSBC Arena finally hosted an NHL playoff game.

18,690 fans sold out the building in downtown Buffalo to see the Sabres take on the Philadelphia Flyers in the first game of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

They would get the much-anticipated playoff game they waited four years for, and plenty more.

Just over five minutes into the first period, Tim Connolly would score the first playoff goal of his career. Despite that the Flyers won a faceoff in their zone courtesy of Mike Richards, Connolly eventually found the puck and threw a backhand into the net past goaltender Robert Esche, without even an assist from one of his teammates.

The Sabres would continue to bombard Esche with shots, firing 14 by the end of the first period and 29 by the end of the second. Another one of those 29 shots gave Buffalo a 2-0 lead early in the second- a perfectly placed wrist shot by veteran defenseman Jay McKee.

Although Philadelphia could not come close to matching Buffalo’s offensive opportunities, one of their meager 12 shots through two periods did beat Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. Late in the period, Mike Knuble blasted a snap shot which beat the young goalie and hit the back of the cage.

Even as Buffalo dramatically out-shot the Flyers throughout the third period, a costly penalty allowed Philadelphia to tie it up. Defenseman Toni Lydman was called for a Delay of Game with under three minutes left in the contest. Less than a minute later, Simon Gagne’s wrist shot forced the game into overtime.

It wasn’t a goal, but Buffalo landed the next big blow almost midway through the first overtime session. Flyer’s forward R.J. Umberger attempted to skate out of his own zone after taking a pass, only to meet with Brian Campbell. Umberger next found himself flat on his back in a daze while both teams got into a scuffle over the devastating check.

The hit would be replayed on television and on the web as the highlight of the series for weeks (arguably, years) to come, and go down as one of the greatest hits in Buffalo Sabres history.

But despite Campbell’s near-KO of a Philadelphia player, and 16 shots on net, the Sabres could not tally the third goal even after 20 minutes of intense overtime play.

They wouldn’t need 20 minutes from the second overtime period. Just over seven minutes in, the Flyers were called for a delayed penalty, and the Sabres struck before they even got on the man-advantage. Jochen Hecht fired a shot on the Flyer’s net, where Daniel Briere stood to deflect the puck past Esche and give Buffalo the win.

The victory was goaltender Ryan Miller’s first in playoff competition for his career, where he finished with 30 saves on 32 shots. As Miller likely learned that night, a NHL playoff games have the potential to be the most thrilling, and the most nerve-racking events in any sport.

Yet, just like their beloved goaltender, there’s nothing that Sabres fans look forward to more once Spring rolls around.

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