The five most memorable moments of the Sabres' playoff drought

A look at the best of very few fond memories during the Sabres' nine-year playoff drought

Louie DiBiase
June 19, 2020 - 2:52 am
Cam Atkinson

Photo: James Guillory - USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres are catching a ton of heat this week for their sweeping organizational changes that started on Tuesday with the firing of general manager Jason Botterill.

The organization is in Year 9 of the NHL's longest playoff drought, and each day seems to bring another story that shows the ineptitude of this franchise. A franchise that is looking more and more like the New York Knicks or Cleveland Browns of the NHL.

Sportsnet NHL insider Elliott Freidman revealed on Thursday during The Instigators the Sabres fired their head of hockey department IT, only to realize their mistake and re-hire him later. No, that is not made up. 

There isn't a lot to feel good about with this team right now, and there hasn't been many good memories given to fans in a long time. Over this near decade-long drought, what has there been to feel good about? 

It is a Friday, so let's end the week on a positive note (kind of) by ranking the most memorable moments for the Sabres since 2011.

 

1.) Cam Atkinson clinches 30th place for the tanking Sabres

It is sad the top moment in nine years was Buffalo clinching last place in the 2014-2015 NHL standings, but it is. April 10, 2015 is probably the most excited the fanbase has been since the Sabres made back-to-back Eastern Conference Final appearances in 2006 and 2007. 

Fans gathered across Western New York at "McEichel" watch parties, as the Sabres took on the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. If Columbus won, Buffalo would clinch last place and the guarantee of having at least the second overall pick. That meant either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel would be playing in blue and gold the following season. Generational talents that could instantly turn the franchise around. 

Midway through the third period, Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson scored the game-winning goal for Columbus, and sealing the last place finish for the Sabres. He instantly became a Buffalo sports legend, without ever playing in the city.

Only Andy Dalton might hold a bigger place in the hearts of fans for what a player on another team did for Buffalo. 

 

2.) The Sabres draft Jack Eichel and trade for Ryan O'Reilly on the same day

The second-best moment is another one that presented hope more than anything. The day of the 2015 NHL Draft was a special one for the Sabres, who were picking second overall and were all but guaranteed to take Eichel with the pick. McDavid was the preferable prize, but Eichel was seen as a rare, elite prospect also worth throwing away a season for. 

Former Sabres general manager Tim Murray staring down Eichel as he walked to the podium to select him was a great moment, as was Eichel putting on the Sabres hat and sweater. It symbolized a new era featuring a star forward that could have Buffalo competing for a Stanley Cup in no time. 

The buzz and expectations around the Sabres got even higher when shortly after selecting Eichel, Murray pulled off a trade with the Colorado Avalanche for center Ryan O'Reilly. 

In one day, the Sabres went from a 30th-ranked, tanking, basement-dwelling team to one of the league's most potential-filled clubs that added two star centers in one day. 

 

3.) 10-game win streak puts the 2018-19 Sabres atop the NHL standings in November

Everything looked like it was finally coming together for the Sabres early in the 2018-19 season. By the end of November, Buffalo managed to pull off a 10-game win streak that put them atop the league standings for the first time since they won the Presidents' Trophy in the 2006-07 season. 

Nine of 10 wins were by one goal, but they were finding ways to finish games, led by star forwards in Eichel and newly acquired winger Jeff Skinner. Skinner was tied for the most goals in the league at the time of the streak with 19. 

Things went south fast after and it never got better for the Sabres that season, but at least for a few months, Buffalo was, once again, the talk of the league for positive, on-ice reasons. 

 

4.) Jonathan Toews keeps the race for "McEichel" alive with two goals late in the third period at First Niagara Center 

Fans embracing the tank were sweating the night of April 5, 2015 out as the Sabres took on the Chicago Blackhawks. With just 1:48 to go in the third period, Buffalo led 3-2. A win would put the guarantee of drafting McDavid or Eichel at serious risk with the Arizona Coyotes just barley ahead of the Sabres in 29th place. 

Then, as if a prayer was answered from the hockey gods, Jonathan Toews scored not one, but two goals within 47 seconds to win the game for the Blackhawks in regulation. 

 

5.) Eichel scores in overtime to defeat Nashville 5-4 

In a January of 2017 road matchup with the Nashville Predators, the Sabres found themselves down by two after a goal by James Neal put the Predators up 4-2 with 9:43 to play. Buffalo would rally back and force overtime thanks to goals from Brian Gionta and Kyle Okposo. 

The comeback was capped off by one of the most entertaining overtime periods and game-winning goals the Sabres have had in a long time. 

Buffalo controlled the puck for almost all of overtime before Eichel went superstar mode, splitting all three Predators skaters, including defenseman P.K. Subban, before rifling a shot past goalie Pekka Rinne to win the game, 5-4. 

It was another example of what having an elite forward like that can do. At any moment, they can take over and there isn't a thing the opposition can do. 

 

Here is to hoping sometime soon the Sabres' most recent memorable moments won't contain so much from a season that was all about losing on purpose.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @DiBiaseLOE

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