This is what Stanley Cup playoff hockey looks like
April 20, 2011.
It was the last time I attended a Stanley Cup Elimination game. It was a 1-0 victory for the Buffalo Sabers against Philadelphia Flyers that night, in front of a sold-out crowd at HSBC Arena that included 20-year-old Melissa and 18,689 others. With the victory, the Sabers tied the series thanks to a goal by Jason Pominville. Ryan Miller had a 32-save shutout.
It’s been over 11 years since I’ve experienced in-person NHL playoff hockey. That year, 2011, was the last time the Sabers made the playoffs. They haven’t won a series since 2006-07. Safe to say: It’s been a while.
Last week, my personal NHL playoff drought came to an end. I spent the week in North Carolina visiting family, and while there I had the opportunity to attend Game 5 of the Carolina Hurricanes – New York Rangers series.
It was everything I could have hoped for and more. More than anything, it reminded me of how amazing the playoff atmosphere is and how intense the action on the ice is. More than once in the night, I said to myself: Wow, can’t wait for the Sabers to be back in the playoffs and for us to feel that in Buffalo.
Highlights of the gaming experience itself? There is a lot of. All in all, the Hurricanes put on a great show. Their hype videos, both pre-game and in-game, are put together incredibly well. They have a video for each media timeout. It feels like an organic way to engage the crowd and keep people pumped up.
The hurricane siren sounder is a nice local touch. For the game I went to, American football legend Clint Dempsey was on the pre-game siren – and we were sitting right below it all. It’s just a special touch that adds to the overall experience and made me wonder what kind of similar things the Sabers could implement in a playoff atmosphere.
Imagine Alex Tuch skating on the ice for Buffalo’s first playoff game in 12 years. I get chills just thinking about it. Imagine Rasmus Dahlin skating in front of center ice during a stoppage in play and picking up a pace to watch the cheering crowd around him. Imagine Peyton Krebs, building on his playoff experience in Rochester and the craziness of that atmosphere, and it gets even better in Buffalo.
(Full disclosure: I also had the chance to attend the Rods pre-game production meeting, which gave me incredible insight into how they handle things and a heightened appreciation for the Rods. Game Presentation Team! Eight Cameras?!)
Of course, it helped to heighten the atmosphere even more that the Hurricanes won that game. The Stanley Cup graphic with the updated warning flags – with one filled in – projected onto the ice after the game was awesome.
Remembering what NHL playoff hockey was like made me want to come back to Buffalo more than ever. Everyone in the house on the edge of their seats, inhaling and exhaling with each whistle. Hang on to every play. Boo the refs for questionable calls. Encourage penalties against the opponent. Everyone was so in it. It reminded me of the RJ Night game, which is probably the closest KeyBank Center to a playoff game in years.
It will be nice to experience the magic – that’s how it feels, the magic – of the Stanley Cup playoffs in Buffalo soon. Fans have been waiting for years. Some came, others left. The media were also waiting. And the players? The coaches? They are equally keen to extend their seasons and have the chance to play for the ultimate prize. Alex Tuch was 14 the last time the Sabers made the playoffs, for god’s sake.
Let’s hope 2023 is the year it all comes together – and let’s hope KeyBank Center can handle the Sabers’ first playoff game in 12 years. The roof could explode.