The Buffalo Sabres have been one of the most consistently good ice hockey squads of the NHL since their creation in 1970, though they have yet to earn a Stanley Cup title. While there was a previous professional team in Buffalo known as the Bisons, joining the National Hockey League was a major step and actually coincided with several other new pro sports franchises in the area, including the Buffalo Bills of the NFL and the Buffalo Braves, a former basketball team.
Due to its cold weather and geographic location, the Sabres would become one of the more popular teams in the area. Additionally, their bright start got fans excited about the team! As a new franchise, Buffalo was awarded the top draft pick in 1970, in which they chose Gilbert Perreault. Perreault would go on to be the franchise’s best player, earning Rookie of the Year honors and never looking back. In his 17 years with the Sabres, Perrault’s brilliant stick control made him one of the greatest centers of all time, along with his instinctive goal scoring attributes.
Joined with later arrivals Rick Martin and Rene Robert, the forward line became known as “The French Connection” and was one of the most powerful attacking units in the NHL during the 70s. In 1975, the Sabres made a strong run through the NHL Playoffs to the Stanley Cup Finals. Although Buffalo beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the infamous Fog Game of Game 3, they would eventually lose the series in 6 games.
The arrival of free-scoring Danny Gare kept the team competitive throughout the rest of the decade, but their inability to rise up in the playoffs began to routinely haunt the Buffalo Sabres franchise. Typically, either the Montreal Canadiens or the Boston Bruins would end the Sabres’ season in the early rounds of the playoffs year after year throughout the 80s.
However, towards the end of the decade, a new formidable squad was formed around Pierre Turgeon, Dominik Hasek, Pat LaFontaine, and Alexander Mogilny, the first Soviet player to defect and play in the NHL. The team would play well under head coach Ted Nolan throughout the 90s but were often overshadowed by off-ice problems and internal squabbles. This resulted in Nolan’s dismissal following a particularly successful year in 1997.
However, with a strong team in place, the Sabres would reach the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. Key players included Miroslav Satan, Michael Peca, Donald Audette, Stu Barnes, Joe Juneau, and Michal Grosek. However, a controversial goal by the Dallas Stars in deep overtime of Game 6 saw Buffalo come home empty-handed once again.
A tough period entered for the team through the early parts of the new millennium, though things would eventually brighten. Players like Danny Briere and Tim Connolly would give the Sabres their first 50-win season in 2006, but injuries hampered them in the playoffs, and they would lose to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. Another amazing year would follow in 2007, but again the Buffalo Sabres fell just one round shy of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Recent seasons have been hard on the Sabres, and they have yet to return to their powerful days of winning. However, as life is with professional ice hockey, a smart coach and a couple key stars can turn around a franchise mighty quick. It shouldn’t be long before the Buffalo Sabres are one of hockey’s strongest teams once again!
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