Tonight is Game One of the second round NHL Playoff series between the New York Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres. My beloved Banana Slugs were the best team in the league this year and even won the President's Trophy. They are actually a favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
But as all fans of Buffalo sports know, high expectations are bad expectations. Year after year we hear the hype and we get ourselves set up for some kind of championship and it just never happens. In fact, it usually ends up in heartbreaking defeat. (See exhibits "A", "B", and "C".) We have more nicknames for heartbreaking sports moments than any other city, I reckon.
So though we were the bully of the block this year, it gives me little confidence or comfort. We've been the best in the league before (1990 Bills, for example) and have no hardware to show for it.
So all I can hope is that the Sabres (and I know this is a cliche) "play their game," which means wearing them down with speed, yet being patient and not trying to beat the Rangers (who are red-hot) at their own game. They can't match up to the Rangers' size or brawn, but they can just wait for the Blue Shirts to make a mistake and pounce on it. If they can overwhelm them like they did the Philadelphia Flyers in last year's first round, they could deflate them quickly. But of course, I'm not expecting it. We Buffalo fans are used to low expectations. It's the only way we can handle all that losing. This is my pre-emptive "Aw shucks" post, I guess. Wouldn't it be fitting that the NHL's glamour team -- the Rangers, a #6 seed -- upset the juggernaut Sabres. That would give the NHL a ratings boost, right? Other than the fact that hockey ratings don't really bump up for big-market teams and that Buffalo is the most exciting team in the league anyway. Either way, we're doomed.
And I shudder to even type this out for fear of jinxing them, but ...
What if the Sabres really are as good as they say they are?
What if their character really can transcend all else?
What if they can stay injury-free and right the wrongs of last year? (I mean, CAROLINA????)
What if the lackluster play against the Islanders inspires them to break free in this round?
What if Danny Briere, Chris Drury, Ryan Miller and Tim Connolly can redeem the shortcomings of Miroslav Satan, Mike Peca, Dominic Hasek and Stu Barnes eight seasons ago?
No, I can't say it. I want to, but I can't.
But what if....???
I'm just saying....
Get out there and light those lamps boys. It's time.