It’s been far too long since we witnessed a season of greatness from Buffalo and although it’s great to let our minds run wild with expectations at what the coming campaign might bring, for a change of pace, we’re going to take you in another direction for the next 10 minutes with a look back at five of the best seasons the Sabres have ever served up.
5 – 2000/01
After a decent showing in the regular season that saw the Sabres finish second, the overwhelming feeling amongst fans after the 4-3 semi-final defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins was one of a missed opportunity. Perhaps if they’d have known there was to be a four-year barren spell – one of which was due to the lockout – they would have enjoyed the journey a tad more given it was, at the time, the longest ever run without a playoff appearance.
The season itself, though, contained plenty of memorable moments with a lot of them due to Miroslav Satan, who starred in the offense with 29 goals and 33 assists. However, the true strength was at the other end with the Sabres boasting the best defensive record. It was a phenomenal combination but ultimately not quite good enough.
4 – 2005/06
After 15 games unbeaten at the start of the season, a poor run threatened the chance of playoff qualification, but the Sabres bounced back with one of their greatest stints as they dropped just eight losses in 50 and made the cut.
The Philadelphia Flyers were unable to stop the Sabres and the semi-final saw Buffalo defeat the Ottawa Senators, who had finished 1st in the regular season, but a narrow loss to the Carolina Hurricanes stopped them in their tracks to reach the Stanley Cup. Regardless of the way the campaign ended, head coach Lindy Ruff was named Coach of the Year.
3 – 1997/98
This spot could easily have been given to the next season but given how the year began, the 97/98 campaign just edges it. The season started with 12 losses in 24 games and things were looking bleak, but then Dominik Hasek found top form between the sticks and produced a string of performances that saw the Sabres get on a roll.
The second half of the season saw a terrific return of just 10 losses in 43 games and that put them into the playoffs as the team to beat. Crushing victories over the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens did nothing to alter that perception but the Washington Capitals proved nothing is won on paper, emerging as 4-2 winners.
2 – 1979/80
Danny Gare took to the rink for his third season as captain and boy did he deliver. Gare led not only for the Sabres but the NHL with 56 goals. Buffalo romped through the regular season with 47 wins – the best of them perhaps the 9-7 victory over the Edmonton Oilers – earning them the Prince of Wales trophy.
Given Gare was finding the net with ease and Bob Sauve was recording the lowest goals against average in the league, it’s no surprise that the next stage saw the Sabres brush aside the Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago BlackHawks. But the Sabres know – more than most –not to take things for granted and the semi-final match with the New York Islanders sadly ended in defeat.
1 – 1974/75
Without question, the Sabres of the mid-seventies was the best we’ve ever seen. The campaign promised to be a tough one after the tragic passing of Tim Horton a little earlier in the year, but the team stood united and produced some mesmerizing attacking play that was the envy of the league.
The team of ’75 immediately conjures up images of the famed French trio but Gare was arguably the biggest success story with an incredible 62 points in his breakout year. Unfortunately, for the Sabres their best endeavours weren’t quite enough and despite breezing past the BlackHawks and Montreal Canadiens, they came up short in the Stanley Cup final against the Philadelphia Flyers.
There you have it, five times where the Sabres have delivered skill, drama, excitement and results throughout a season.
Can the current bunch use the 2019/20 campaign to write themselves into the history books alongside these greats? It might seem a big ask but stranger things have happened and, if one thing is for sure, it’s that we’ll back them all the way.