If you’ve ever been lucky enough as a sports fan, there’s a certain point in a season when something has happened, which makes you realise your team is going to have a special year. It’s not something that can be easily explained; you just know .
For Buffalo sports fans, one of the prime examples of this was the 1990 Bills team. Since 1986, the team had been stock-piling talent like there was no tomorrow (Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, Thurman Thomas and so on), without being able to transfer it to the football field with any consistency. In fact, the team even became known as the ‘Bickering Bills’ at one point.
However, it finally all came together in a week four match-up at home to the Denver Broncos during 1990. Entering the fourth quarter, the Bills had been totally outplayed and trailed 21-9.
With the Broncos lining up to kick a field goal that would increase their advantage, the attempt was blocked and returned 80 yards for a Bills touchdown. This started a 77-second, three touchdown explosion that resulted in a dramatic 29-28 victory.
A similarly stunning come-from-behind victory the following week against the L.A. Raiders merely confirmed that something special was happening and the team went on to make the first of four Super Bowl appearances.
The reason for bringing this up is because the people of Buffalo may have just experienced a similar scenario, this time involving the Sabres. Last night’s 4-3 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins has a feeling similar to that created by the 1990 Bills team.
The team had already enjoyed an impressive start to the 2009-10 season. Entering yesterday’s game, the Sabres were leading the Northeast division and were only five points off the pace for the best record in the NHL.
In Ryan Miller, they had a goaltender with the best save percentage in the league. In fact, the team as a whole had allowed the third-fewest goals.
However, a game against the reigning Stanley Cup champions was the perfect opportunity to showcase the Sabres title credentials. It also offered the chance for revenge after losing a shoot-out to the very same team just ten days earlier.
Unfortunately, it didn’t start out that way as the team found themselves 3-0 down just 1:28 into the second period. It would have been easy for Buffalo to give up the fight and live to fight another day, but head coach Lindy Ruff wasn’t having any of it.
While respected around the league, the NHL’s longest-tenured coach is surprisingly still underappreciated in Western New York. However, Ruff replaced Miller with Patrick Lalime, who went on to stop all 27 shots aimed at his net.
Another sign of Ruff’s coaching talents came with the decision to put forward Drew Stafford back into the line-up one game after benching him. This move had the desired effect as Stafford responded with two goals and an assist as the Sabres completed an amazing comeback to win 4-3.
As Stafford said after the game, “It comes back to how you respond.”
Lalime echoed this sentiment. “We played well, we came back strong. (It’s a) good character win.”
In the process, this result will surely have given the Sabres the belief that they can now beat anyone, no matter how hopeless the situation appears. Of course there's never any guarantees, but this season is beginning to have that special feeling for Buffalo sports fans.