5. Sunday, January 20th vs. Philadelphia
No hockey fan could have been happy during the 2012-2013 NHL lockout, but the city of Buffalo felt as if it had lost a part of its soul during those three-or-so months while the season sat in limbo. Western New Yorkers gladly indulged whenever hockey did grace their city then, including when some 10,000 fans attended a Sabres scrimmage the week before the NHL returned, and a record crowd of over 19,000 were on hand to watch a Rochester Americans game inside First Niagara Center.
But neither were the same as when their boys in blue and gold returned to regular season action in a nationally televised game against the Flyers. The crowd nearly tore the roof off of the arena when Steve Ott scored the first goal of the shortened season on a blistering one-timer in the first period.
The Flyers took the lead in the second period thanks to goals by Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, but Thomas Vanek tallied his first goal of the season while on the power play and ensured that the teams went into the third frame all tied up. A standstill ensued until the final five minutes of play, where Buffalo took over. Tyler Myers and Cody Hodgson scored goals within less than two minutes of one another, and Vanek added an effortless empty netter to put the game away in the end.
4. Thursday, January 31st @ Boston
The Sabres entered the TD Garden in Boston on a four game losing streak, leaving even the Buffalo faithful to question whether they stood a chance against their old nemesis, the hard-hitting, gritty Bruins. It turned out that the Sabres were more than up to the challenge, putting on one of their most dominate performances against Boston in recent history.
Buffalo took the lead early on a goal by Vanek, only to relinquish it—and then some—throughout the rest of the first period. Boston scored three goals in succession, but the Sabres came roaring back by scoring six of the game’s next seven goals over the course of the contest. Two were highlight-reel moments that will go down as a pair of the shortened 2013 season’s best, including a falling, no-look pass from Vanek to Tyler Ennis before Ennis buried it, and Vanek himself freezing Bruins’ netminder Tuukka Rask in an astounding one-man effort.
The game will also be remembered for the pummeling that Sabres enforcer John Scott levied on Shawn Thornton during a fight. Ever since that one-sided bout on the ice, there have been few—if any—cases of another team bullying the Sabres the way that they had been in the past. That fight alone injected a new level of respect into the rest of the NHL when facing the club from Western New York.
3. Thursday, March 21st vs. Toronto
Every season there’s that one game that degenerates into a wild, raucous contest where neither the Sabres nor their opponent play particularly well, but the game ends up being a thriller for the fans. The late-March meeting against the Sabres’ foes from just across the border turned out to be just that.
The game certainly started with a bang. Just over two minutes in, two separate brawls broke out as Scott faced off with Colton Orr and Patrick Kaleta took on Frazer McLaren. Once all four men found their way to the penalty box, a total of 44 penalty minutes were doled out by the referees.
Scoring was also plentiful. The Sabres and Leafs traded blows from the first period through the third in both even and odd man situations to bring the game to a 4-4 standstill. Overtime resolved nothing, but a prolonged shootout finally did. A total of 12 different shooters took their opportunities, and Ryan Miller foiled all-but one Leaf who came his way. After a number of fancy, but fruitless attempts by Buffalo, Ott eventually won it with a freight train charge on Leafs netminder James Reimer. There was nothing pretty about the goal—or the entire game, for that matter—but it was certainly fun to watch.
2. Tuesday, April 2nd @ Pittsburgh
The Sabres are regularly portrayed as the underdogs when faced against one of the premier franchises on national television; but this one was just ridiculous. With the Penguins in the middle of a historic 15-game winning streak, Buffalo’s April 2nd visit to Pittsburgh was likened to a tune-up match for a champion prizefighter, the Sabres being the proverbial “can” to the vastly superior Penguins.
The Sabres chose to follow a different fight plan. They came out swinging as Kevin Porter netted his first goal as a Sabre while on the penalty kill. The then-newly-acquired Jarome Iginla evened things up for the Pens, but it ended up being the only goal they could muster on 20 shots against Miller.
The Sabres, meanwhile, struck while the iron was hot. Ott and Hodgson added goals while Porter secured his second on the night. The Sabres four goals came on only their first 13 shots of the game; enough of a flurry to make Pittsburgh throw in the towel on netminder Tomas Vokoun before the second period even concluded.
1. Wednesday, April 17th @ Boston
The Bruins were fighting for division supremacy and to guarantee a playoff position, while the Sabres were fighting for a chance to make the postseason; but the April 17th matchup between both teams was about far more than just the game of hockey. It was about a night to heal the wounds inflicted upon the city of Boston—and all of America—in the wake of the horrific marathon bombings just two days before.
Prior to the game, a video tribute was shown to the victims and heroes of the tragedy. What followed that will go down as one of the most awe-inspiring scenes ever at a hockey game, where the entire crowd inside TD Garden sang the national anthem.
For one night, the Sabres and the Bruins put aside their hostilities and simply played a spirited game of hockey to take America’s mind off its pain. Boston struck first to ignite its emotionally-charged crowd on a goal by former Sabre Daniel Paille, while Buffalo kept pace with a power play goal by Vanek. Boston reclaimed the lead in the second period on a tally by Chris Kelly, and for a period and a half it seemed like it would finish as the game winner.
But with just 27 seconds left on the clock, Buffalo miraculously tied the game once again on a goal by Hodgson. The game eventually went to a shootout, where Miller fended off all three Boston shooters, and Drew Stafford beat Rask to give Buffalo the win.
Immediately following the game’s conclusion, both teams gathered at center ice and saluted the crowd by raising their sticks in the air; an image of unity and respect between two teams who temporarily shed their disdain for one another to entertain the fans.