Being a Buffalo fan, it's hard not to be a cynic. The town's sports history is legendary for all the wrong reasons. And once you've been a part of that, it's hard not to give in to that extra nervousness that sets in when something starts to go wrong.
And that was the feeling after the Sabres' first loss in the Ottawa series.
But it shouldn't have been. Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason writing prior to Game Five:
"Apparently, fans are still tormented by Bernie Parent's glove, Brett Hull's foot and Scott Norwood's leg. They're conditioned to hope for the best and brace for the worst while preparing defense mechanisms for failure. Their broken hearts have made them reluctant to surrender their souls.
It mattered little that the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders were the only two teams in NHL history who rallied from a 3-0 playoff deficit and won their series. Buffalo fans do the math, figure it happens once every 30 years or so and convince themselves that it's bound to happen, oh, right about now.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has been around long enough to know how the locals twist themselves into a Windsor. He was a calming influence Friday after the Sabres had a voluntary skate in the Amherst Pepsi Center. He laughed when someone suggested fans were getting restless. He laughed because his team was getting excited.
"We have a group of younger guys that play without that feeling," Ruff said. "Maybe sometimes that's foolish, but it's been the strength of our hockey club." '
The best example of this has to be Jason Pominville's series-winning goal. Not only was it in overtime. It was shorthanded. And the goal sent the Sabres to the third round for the first time since 1999.
How is that Pominville, a player who didn't even make the team out of training camp, who then cleared waivers before working his way to a permanent spot on the roster, can play with poise under such pressure? He danced around Daniel Alfredsson and Ray Emery into Sabres history. And he's just the most recent example of a clutch Sabres player. These guys are for real.
Recently, Jerry Sullivan wrote one of the best sports columns I've ever read. It was a conversation between himself and his friend Rex -- the new, prototypical Buffalo sports fan. This team has (at least partially) changed that sports fan from the perennial doubter to a believer:
' "Sure, Rex, but remember all the times you cursed Darcy Regier at the trade deadline? Or how dubious you were about Golisano buying the team? You thought Lindy was a tired act. You said he suffocated skill players. Next thing I know, you'll be waxing sentimental about Larry Quinn."
"That's all true," he said, leaning his face close to mine. "I didn't believe. I wrote off most of these players. I figured Drury's legend would fizzle here, like Scotty Bowman's did. When they picked up Lydman and Numminen, I said, 'Just what we need, two soft defensemen who never won anything.' I thought Connolly was a bust."
"Yeah, who was the idiot who came up with that Tiny Tim nickname, anyway?"
"It's a humbling thing for a fan to admit he was wrong," said Rex, his voice breaking. "We did give up on them. They rose above the doubt. I'm sick of the fatalistic idea that Buffalo teams always find a way to blow it in the end. This team is different. They make you expect the best, because they expect it of themselves."
"Sure, but it's only 2-0, Rex. I wouldn't be surprised if Ottawa got back in this series. And even if they get by the Sens, they're only halfway to the Cup."
"You still don't get it, do you? It's not even about winning the Cup this year. Sure, it would be great. But the big thing is, they've made us believers. It's the belief that matters, above all. I'm convinced this group will win a Stanley Cup some day, if management keeps them together."
"Maybe this year." '