This post is the first of a four part series. I’m going to pick out four huge moments in the history of the Buffalo Sabres franchise. I’ll tell you what I think would have happened if fortune would of went the Sabres way. My hope is this series will give Sabres fans something interesting to read in what appears to be another tough season.
Part I is going to be a review of game 7 of the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes. If Jay McKee doesn’t get a staph infection in his leg and miss game 7, do the Sabres win?
Injury Bug Bites
Going into game 7 in Raleigh the Sabres were down defenseman Henrik Tallinder who broke is arm in game 3. Tallinder joined already injured Dmitri Kalinin and Teppo Numminen. This left only Jay McKee, Toni Lydman, and Brian Campbell as the three remaining year long regulars on the blue line. Also remember the Sabres lost playoff leading scorer Tim Connolly in the prior series against Ottawa due to a blind side hit, which resulted in a major concussion.
The Sabres managed to continue to battle through injuries and were riding the momentum of a game six OT win. Hours before the beginning of game the news broke that Jay McKee would miss game 7 with a “lower body injury” (staph infection). This was may have been the final straw the broke the camel’s back. The Sabres would have to go into game seven with Campbell, Lydman, Rory Fitzpatrick, Doug Janik, Nathan Paetsch, and Jeff Jillson as the starting six on the blue line. The loss of McKee surely would have changed the game plan of the Sabres. They had to play a more defensive game to cover up for the loss of four starting defenders. The McKee injury also caused the loss of his experience and leadership on the ice. McKee brought a physical presence and solid stay at home defender to aid a young Ryan Miller.
Also not to be overlooked, Lindy Ruff decided to bench his struggling rookie forward Thomas Vanek.
What if McKee Plays?
Even with all of the injuries the Sabres headed to locker room after the 2nd period of game 7 with a 2-1 lead. Jochen Hecht scored a classic “Hecht goal” from an awkward angle with five seconds remaining in the period. Then perhaps the injuries and inexperience showed in the 3rd period. The Hurricanes would go on to score three goals in the 3rd lead by a young Justin Williams.
If McKee plays game 7 I have no doubt in my mind the Sabres win game 7. McKee would have been the calming influence and lock down defender the Sabres needed in the 3rd period. The Sabres would not of had to lean on Campbell and Lydman so heavily, who played 26 minutes and 24 minutes respectively. McKee also would have been the security blanket for their young goaltender Ryan Miller.
If the Sabres go on to win game 7 they host the Cinderella 8th seed out of the West, Edmonton Oilers. The Sabres seemed to match up well against the Oilers on paper. I believe the Sabres, when healthy, were the best team in the NHL in the 2005-2006 season. The best team doesn’t always win the Stanley Cup, however in this case all we can do in this case is match up the Sabres and Oilers on paper. The Oilers were led by the strong play of goalie Dwayne Roloson and big defenseman Chris Pronger. The Oilers were riding an unbelievable wave and a nothing to lose attitude. With that being said I think the Sabres would have won their first Stanley Cup in six games. In the end I believe the Sabres would have been too talented for the Oilers.
Going back to reality we know how the story went. The Hurricanes win game seven against Buffalo and went on to face the Oilers. Roloson was injured before the series started and the Hurricanes would beat the Oilers in seven games to win their first Stanley Cup.
The 2005-06 playoff run gave Sabres fans a lot of memories. This playoff run had fans falling in love with team and again becoming a hockey crazy city. After the 2006-07 season, fans have been looking to ride the wave of a long playoff run again.