Flash back to the evening of May 4, 2007, in Buffalo. Time was winding down in the third period of Game 5 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Sabres and New York Rangers. Though outplaying the Rangers for most of the game, the Sabres were down 1-0 with 12.8 seconds left in regulation. Chris Drury and Michael Nylander came to the circle to Lundqvist’s left for a faceoff.
“The King” had already stopped the Sabres’ first 36 shots and was looking for a shutout and a commanding three-games-to-two lead to bring back to Madison Square Garden.
Ask any Sabres fan and they’ll tell you what happened next.
After sending the puck to the corner off the faceoff, Drury, also rightfully known as “Captain Clutch,” collected a rebound and fired a shot through a maze of players that found the back of the net with just 7.7 seconds left on the clock to tie it up.
The puck can find him [Drury]. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He doesn’t miss many of those opportunities. – Buffalo Coach Lindy Ruff
The goal sent the sellout crowd into hysterics. They erupted both inside and outside the arena in the plaza. Sheer joy.
“Who else? Who else?” repeated Rick Jeanneret as Tim Connolly jumped on Drury’s back. It was as real as it was symbolic—Drury had been carrying this team, almost single-handedly all year.
Headed to Overtime
The Sabres went into their locker room on a high, while the Rangers skated into theirs completely deflated and disappointed. Momentum was clearly with Buffalo.
After killing off an early penalty to Drury in overtime, the Sabres got a power play of their own. And they didn’t waste it. Just 11 seconds into the man-advantage, Maxim Afinogenov fired a shot from just inside the Sabres’ blue line that bounced off Rangers’ forward Jed Ortmeyer’s stick and into the net, going between Lundqvist’s pads for the game winner. Once again, the place erupted in delirious applause.
Thunderous cheers filled the arena as the speedy Russian raced to center ice and dove face first, celebrating with the pure joy and excitement of a child.
At that moment, all Sabres fans were Maxim Afinogenov. Goosebumps. Chills. For some, even tears of joy.
Afinogenov had been benched for the previous game but was put back into the lineup in an attempt to jump-start the Sabres’ offense by then coach Lindy Ruff. It worked.
Two Incredible Goals
Of the two goals, Drury’s is the one most vividly remembered. But it was Afinogenov’s goal that flipped momentum in the series, giving the Sabres a chance to eliminate the Rangers in six, which they eventually did. Had the Rangers won in overtime, they would’ve had the chance to close out the series in New York. Over the course of NHL playoff history, a team that wins Game Five in a series that was tied, advances to the next round 80 percent of the time.
“You don’t see scoring like that, when there’s 17 seconds and a faceoff in their end and score a goal in 10 seconds, especially after you’ve been stymied the whole game,” Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell said. “That building was loud.”
This was an exciting, never-say-die kind of team that was beyond fun to watch. And though this Presidents’ Trophy-winning Sabres eventually lost to the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo’s Northeast Division-rival, the summer was when the franchise suffered one of its eternal black eyes. Forget about all of that though. For now, just re-live the glory from a decade ago, and know that it can happen again.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”