Monday, May 14, 2007
Buffalo Soldiers: Part II

Senators lead series 2-0

I watch this game in high heels and uncomfortable formal attire, surrounded by bitter Leaf fans who hate the Sens more than the Sabres and meek Sens fans. I say only meek because I am hysterical during hockey games, screaming uncontrollably, so unless they are stripping themselves naked in response they are just labeled, meek.

Buffalo is screaming, jumping in unison over the advent of game 2. This isn't technically a must-win, but with the way the Sabres played in game 1, they need some momentum to head into Ottawa. In the first period of the game, I pray for the Senators to merely hang on and weather the storm. The Buffalo Sabres come out skating hard, skating circles around a quickly disintegrating Senators defense, Afinogenov and Vanek particularly making dekes and plays worthy of a continous stream of cheers and praise from the Leaf. Their momentum builds up to a power-play, and it seems like Vanek has scored from a net scramble, but we are so lucky that it is called no-goal. He bats the puck in with his glove and we are still tied, 0-0.

Vanek gets the goal back, though. The puck slides in from the shaft of his stick this time and into the net, off a terrible turnover by the Big Line. Murray is attempting to shield Preissing and Corvo's defensive deficiencies by playing them with the Big Line, but it costs us here. Jochen Hecht scores a few minutes later off a bad rebound by Emery.

Some guy sitting beside me says, "How can you let a German dude score?"

Down 2-0. Nobody should panic, though, 2-0 leads disappear all the time. On a power-play, it is Alfredsson who scores on Miller, beating him plainly, top corner. Some guy who was criticizing Alfredsson's Swedishness before gets a sarcastic mouthful of: "Who scored that? Did you see who scored that?"

All thing considered, the Senators are lucky to be down only by a goal in a game where the Sabres have every reason and opportunity to storm out to a 4-0, 5-0 lead. The intermission is filled with chatter and arguments over the Leafs, unfortunately, and what went wrong. It's the same old talk radio chatter about the Leaf owners not caring about the playoffs because they apparently aren't a good source of revenue.

Special teams continue to be a source of wonder and strength for the Senators. Despite a shitty interference call on Chris Neil, in which Roy backs his big-ass up into Chris Neil and Neiler gets called for it -- or perhaps CBC was just showing the wrong footage -- despite all the crappy Schubert penalties, we hold it together. We kill some of their momentum. And when it's our turn on the man advantage, Fisher seizes it, letting a quick shot off. That 2-0 lead is now gone.

The Senators get a 5-on-3 when Campbell and Zubrus go, terrified to watch what might happen from behind the newly cleaned penalty door glass. Redden scores from the face-off circle on a laser shot that hits the top corner of the goal -- Redden, oh gawd, Redden, silences the entire freaking arena and the CBC doesn't show the crowd outside of HSBC Arena anymore. 3-2. 3-2. The Leaf fans are absolutely stunned.

It would be the Ottawa way to treat the entire 3rd period as a 20 minute penalty kill, standing up at the blue-line and keeping the Sabres diluted and frustrated. The Sabres make one too many passes at each attempt at fore-checking, and this frustrates the hell out of the Leaf fans watching: "Shoot, just shoot goddamn you!"

They overpass and the Senators are happy to just break up their passes and send them careening, again and again. At one point, our fourth line pins them in their own zone for a good minute. I am impressed with Saprykin, and slightly relieved that I said he should stay instead of letting Eaves come back. Muckler is starting to look like a genius.

After a brief conversation with a Leaf fan about the future of the Leafs, Sundin, Raycroft, the reason for their failures, he tells me: "You know, you surprise the hell out of me."

I am flattered.

Despite not having many scoring opportunities, the Sabres tie it up with less than a minute remaining, on a scramble in which Briere is left all alone by the crease. It's a tap-in that ensures overtime. I am slightly terrified that this game might go past midnight, at which time I really must leave.

This is a devastating scenario for both teams, should they lose: to go up 3-2, only to surrender a late goal in the third to let it go into overtime, to lose in overtime would suck out all the energy and momentum from the Senators, presumably. We lost in double-overtime in New Jersey, but fought to tie the game up the entire time, so it wasn't as heartbreaking. For the Sabres, blowing a 2-0 lead, only to tie it up in the third, only to lose -- well, that, that hurts.

Some Leaf fans that haven't bothered to watch any Senators hockey this playoffs make the brash statement that Emery isn't an overtime goalie. Perhaps all they've seen of Emery's work in overtime is game 1 from last year's Buffalo series. No matter. They soon learn.

In the first overtime, Vermette fans on a wide open net. Our very own Thumper breaks his stick in frustration. The Senators carry much of the play, and with a few timely saves by Emery and some impossible-seeming saves by Miller, nothing is resolved. Heatley, by this time, must have had at least 3 golden opportunities to score, but he's either shot it wide or can't get a proper shot off. Alas.

Who can watch overtime hockey? I can't. I'm literally clutching my heart at this point, taking checks of my pulse, trying to breathe so I won't keel over at a heart-attack before the age of 30. I'm still screaming, though.

"Stop screaming," a Leaf fan says, "we can see what's happening."

"I can't, I don't control it."

He smiles a little and says, "I think you're just a passionate fan, that's all. But try to keep the screaming down."

"It's overtime. I don't think I have any energy left." Then the Sabres go on another rush, the puck jumps off the post, and I can't control myself. I revise that statement with a smile: "No, apparently I do."

It's 11:40 at this time, and with only about 4 hours of sleep, the entire thing seems very surreal. The HSBC Arena isn't as energetic as it was at the start, and I'm almost totally horizontal at this point. Somebody has to score.


On a "dirty" puck that skips from the point past Miller's stick and into the net and it's over, the Buffalo Sabres are down 2-0, their fans are leaving, and the Senators gather in a first moment of relief at center ice. Joe Corvo owed us for New Jersey's double-overtime goal last series; he owed us for the first Buffalo goal; he no longer owes us.

This is the immensity of what has happened, this is how many statistics were broken by this game:

* Volchenkov blocks 11 shots. The Sabres block 19 as a team.
* The Sabres were 46-0 with a 2 goal lead.
* The Sabres were undefeated when scoring the first goal.
* The Senators have never gone up 2-0 in a series.

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Anonymous PRQ said...

The last time I watched any hockey with any significant number of Leafs fans was in residence at university-- and the out-of-towners always outnumbered the home side, anyway.

I admire your resiliency. I try to interact with them but all the while I feel like it'd be more productive to just wear my "MATT STAJAN IS NOT THE FUTURE" t-shirt.

Not that I have one, but it would be neat if I did.

14 May, 2007 11:47  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can hardly watch the game with impassive friends let alone a room full of Leafs fans.

I'm training for a half-marathon in Ottawa in two weeks and I've done some research here and there. One multi-time winner type wrote about getting to that blissful spot by only focusing on positive thoughts. Yesterday I ran 20km for the first time and I can honestly say that focusing on being up 2-0 and Alfie's game of late was all the bliss I needed.

I have a lot of faith right now but there are some areas that could use some improvement:

I want to believe in Emery but I'd really like to see him catch a puck instead of having it bounce of his chest and freeze for a moment as if wondering why he didn't catch it.

I think/hope Heatley will find his finish soon. He missed shots that are normally sure things for him. It would be nice if the dam breaks with his next goal.

I've always thought Schaefer had more offence in him then he shows. Take some shots, dude.

Same goes for Schubert, although he probably wouldn't score being from Germany and all.

Having written all this, I'm so proud of the entire team and what they've done so far. Keep it up boys.

Enjoy tonight's game.



14 May, 2007 12:26  
Anonymous Bob said...

entertaining post AQG... Have any thoughts coming on Game 3?

14 May, 2007 12:44  
Anonymous Nathan said...

Truly an awesome post. :) I was reliving the game as I was reading it ... I love the voice you have when you write. I look forward to many more.

Go sens go! I'll be at the game tonight, screaming away!

14 May, 2007 17:53  
Anonymous KV said...

Great post and wow, I love that you kept it together and seemed to get along in that group of Leaf fans. It's hard for me to imagine Leaf fans that aren't irritating but it seems you've found a few that aren't too bad. *g* The game really was a great one. And the look of absolute joy on Corvo's face made my week. A great moment in Sens history.

Can't wait to hear about your thoughts on tonight's game.

15 May, 2007 00:54  
Blogger aquietgirl said...

I admire your resiliency. I try to interact with them but all the while I feel like it'd be more productive to just wear my "MATT STAJAN IS NOT THE FUTURE" t-shirt.

I'm a failure of a hockey fan. None of my closest friends care about hockey. I am desperate for any hockey talk I can get!

I can hardly watch the game with impassive friends let alone a room full of Leafs fans.

I don't think they enjoyed watching with me. My voice is unbearable, especially during the panicky rushes.

I like the positive thoughts theme. I don't understand why Heatley hasn't been finishing, but he'll get it done one way or another. And Schubert ... he doesn't need to score, he just needs to stay out of the penalty box and hit a few Sabres, and that is all I expect of him.

It's hard for me to imagine Leaf fans that aren't irritating but it seems you've found a few that aren't too bad.

Honestly, I think it's just the novelty of arguing with a girl dressed in high heels, a skirt who screams every time the puck gets too close (or too far) from Emery.

15 May, 2007 21:56  

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