The Buffalo Sabres had already clinched the top spot in the Eastern Conference heading into their second-last game of the 2007 season against the Washington Capitals.
Little did they know, however, their season was far from over that year. After what had been a truly remarkable run to relevancy the previous season which concluded with a heartbreaking loss to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Sabres were staring the franchise’s first Presidents Trophy square in the face.
Sitting on 52 wins and home ice advantage throughout the 2007 playoffs as they entered the nation’s capital, the Sabres needed just one more win to clinch the league’s best record over a 50-win Detroit Red Wings team and set the franchise record for wins in a season.
“(The record for wins) will mean more once the season’s over and I get 16 more in the playoffs,” said second-year goaltender Ryan Miller, who had won his last four starts heading into the contest with the Capitals. “That’s really what it comes down to. It’s been a great season and I’ve had a lot of fun, but our focus is starting to turn a bit.”
Everything had gone nearly perfect for the Sabres in 2007. Thomas Vanek notched a career-high 42 goals. C0-captain Daniel Briere was flirting with the 100-point plateau, a mark untouched by any Sabre since Alexander Mogilny and Pat LaFontaine scored 127 and 148, respectively, in the ’92-’93 season and Miller made his first-career NHL All-Star Game appearance while setting the franchise record for wins in a season.
It looked as though nothing could stop this Sabres team that appeared determined to bounce back from the slew of injuries that hampered them in the 2006 playoffs and poised to claim what many thought was destined to be theirs the year before — the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
Even the oft-injured Tim Connolly would make his return during this game just in time for the playoffs after a concussion and broken leg caused him to miss the entire ’06-’07 season.
Derek Roy would get the Sabres on the board just 96 seconds into the game as he drove home his 20th goal on the season off of a juicy rebound given up by Olaf Kolzig after a shot by Max Afinogenov left the Capitals’ goalie helpless.
It wouldn’t take much longer afterwards before Connolly would score his first goal of the season midway through the first period after Daniel Paille forced a turnover inside the Capitals’ blue-line and passed it to Connolly who ripped a low trajectory shot that found its way through traffic to beat Kolzig and put the Sabres up 2-0.
“It’s a big monkey off my back,” said Connolly, who scored his first goal in almost a year following his injuries. “It wasn’t something I was really thinking about. I was just going to try to come out and keep it simple out there and try to make the game as easy as possible. But it was really nice to get that.”
The Sabres and the Capitals racked up a combined 33 penalty minutes throughout the game as a good majority of which came by way of Briere’s third-period ejection following a skirmish with Milan Jurcina where Briere speared the Capitals’ forward.
It turned out that two goals would be all the Sabres needed to end the Capitals’ season and earn their 53rd victory and the coveted Presidents Trophy.
Both goalies turned out solid efforts in the game as Kolzig stopped 22 of 24 shots while Miller recorded his second shutout of the season, stopping all 26 shots he faced in the game.
The Sabres’ victory over the Capitals will forever live on as the day the team clinched its’ first Presidents Trophy that would begin yet another unforgettable run through the playoffs before falling short in the Eastern Conference Finals to the division rival Ottawa Senators.