Listen up, all you little youngsters. I know the Bruins match-up of today may not be in your top five for hated rivals. However, about 20 years ago, the Boston vs Buffalo match-up was thee rival. I can remember being 9 or 10 years old and just loathing the Bruins. Prior to being a fan of hockey, the Bruins and Sabres had a history of playoff encounters. Unfortunately for the Sabres, the Bruins took two series from them in the early 80’s.
At about the time I started watching the Sabres, the Bruins were coached by Mike Milbury. Yes, that Mike Milbury! The loud mouth commentator that no one really finds that interesting-except crazy old-school hockey fans that want more fights than goals. Milbury only coached the Bruins for a couple of years, but he made sure those Bruin teams represented his beliefs. Tough, dirty, angry and brutal hockey. When you were facing the Bruins, it was like going against the Broad Street Bullies, except they could score six goals on you.
They had Cam Neely, who is arguably one of the best power forwards in league history. Ray Bourque, a defensemen who could take your head off with his slap shot. Craig Janney (who later was traded for an even better player in Adam Oates), a play-making center who was always looking to get his teammates involved. After those star players, it was a bunch of gritty guys that wouldn’t pull any punches. Mainly because they had every intention on knocking your ass out.
As for the Sabres, you think today’s version is much maligned with the fan base? You didn’t live through the era of Pierre Turgeon, Dave Andreychuk and Alexander Mogilny. All finesse, no grit. As much as I hated the Bruins at that time, I always envied the way their team played. At the end of every Sabres/Bruins game, I would go away shaking my head, wondering why couldn’t we beat down the Bruins like they did to us. They were just so tough and big. They would work the forecheck against us like no one else. It would seem like Neely would control the puck for an eternity behind the Sabres net. It really seemed like a one sided rival.
However, I decided to go back and look at the win/loss record of these rivals and was presently surprised how it wasn’t as one sided as I had originally thought. Their regular season games were almost even between the two teams. Except, I wasn’t considering the post season. From 1988 to 1992, the Sabres and Bruins met three times in the first round of the playoffs, with the Bruins winning all three of those series.
I can remember the first two series being the same ole’ for the Sabres. The Bruins would come in and push the Sabres around; get in their face, and none of the Sabres could match the Bruins physicality. The Sabres lost the first series in six games and the second series in five games.
The series that ended in five games started out great for the Sabres. They beat down Boston in their own building by a score of 6-0. I can remember feeling jubilation and thinking that this could be the year that we finally get rid of those dam B’s. I was wrong. The Bruins ended up beating the Sabres in four straight games; outscoring them by a 16 to 8 count.
All of the Sabres fans wanted the team to be built like Boston. You know, a tough blue-collar squad that wouldn’t take s#$t from anyone. Of course, when you want your team to be something they are not, you’re going to have your little tirades against those guys. Turgeon seemed to get the blunt of criticism. Turgeon was like a cross between the likes of Derek Roy, Miro Satan and Thomas Vanek. He was the first overall pick in the 1987 and had a ton of expectations. He had a nice career in Buffalo, but was inconsistent in his scoring and there were questions about his toughness in the playoffs.
Speaking of Turgeon, I have a funny story about him. My first ever jersey that I owned was his white home replica. I was only about 8 years old when my older sister bought it for me at a Sabres game. Now, for whatever reason, the jersey was about 3x the size of what I should have been wearing. It literally went below my knees and only my fingertips were able to see the light of day while wearing it.
So, being the fashion connoisseur that I am, decided the only logical thing to do was to shorten my jersey. By shorting it, I mean by cutting it…with scissors. So my 80 dollar jersey was finally able to fit below my ass and my hands were able to be seen in public. I didn’t realize it, but my jersey looked as if it had a run-in with a bunch of sword swinging ninjas, who really f#$ked me up.
Of course, I went to school the next day, sporting my brand new ripped Turgeon jersey. I thought I was going to be like the kid who just bought the newest Air Jordan’s. Everyone was going to look at me and say “Wow, look at that jersey!” How wrong I was. About a hundred insults later and a sad bus ride home, I threw my jersey deep into the abyss of my closet; where it sat there for about the next six years. So kids, make sure you try on the jersey when you buy it at the arena. And if it doesn’t fit, then you must return it.
OK? Where the hell was I? Oh yeah…Turgeon and the Bruins. Even though Turgeon was an OK player, he really wasn’t the franchise player the Sabres had hoped for. On October 25th, 1991, Turgeon was traded to the Islanders for Pat LaFontaine. Yes, there were other players involved in the deal, but those were the two big named players. Of course, LaFontaine went down in history as one of the Sabres best play-making centers in franchise history.
Later on that year, the Sabres once again met the Bruins in the playoffs. Most fans thought it was going to be the same old ending for Buffalo. The Sabres started off the series well, beating the Bruins in the opener by a score of 3-2. Unfortunately, the Sabres lost the next three games and once again, it looked as if the prognosticators were dead on. Well, the Sabres made a series out of it. They won next two games, including a game six, 9-3 thrashing at the Aud. The series was tied at three games a piece.
However, the series ended for them in Boston by a score of 3-2. I remember at the end of the game when the camera panned across the Sabres bench and everyone looked really sad and defeated. I felt so bad for those guys that I almost broke down and cried. However, after the game, my feelings started to warm up.
Mike Robitaille (Yes, dude has been announcing Sabres games since I was 8) said that he felt differently about this team losing to Boston than in years past. He felt that the team didn’t give up like in previous series. He mentioned that the team was coming into it’s own with LaFontaine, and were on the cusp of finally beating these guys. I happened to agree with him.
The next season, the Sabres had one of their best offensive performances in team history. LaFontaine scored 148 points and Mogilny had 76 goals (God, if only the NHL could get back to those numbers). The Sabres also added Stanley Cup winning goaltender, Grant Fuhr, to the mix at the trade deadline. Once again, the stage was set for the Bruins and Sabres in the first round of the playoffs.
Of course, the same questions were being asked if the Sabres could manage to offset the Bruins physical play. Finally, the Sabres answered the bell. The Sabres jumped out to a 3 games to none lead over the Bruins; winning all three of their games by one goal. Then there was game four; “Mayday.” The Sabres were down 5-3 in the third period and nobody wanted to go back to Boston for game 5. However, the Sabres scored two late third period goals, sending the game to overtime. Of course, Brad May scored the game winner and Rick Jeanneret became a legend with his “Mayday” call.
That series became my version of the Red Sox finally beating the Yankees. It was like this giant boulder was lifted off my shoulders. Trust me, I wasn’t the only one thinking that. The series victory marked the beginning of the end for the Bruins. Cam Neely was finished because of injuries, Ray Bourque was getting older, and the team’s toughness began to lack. Boston didn’t win their next division title until 2002.
As for the Sabres, the series win ended up being the apex for LaFontaine and Mogilny. The following years, the dynamic duo didn’t come close to eclipsing their numbers of the 93′ season. The duo ended up not making it out of the first round again for the Sabres. Mogilny was traded during the off season of 1995, and LaFontaine was traded just two years later. Plus, the B’s vs Sabres rivalry started to deteriorate. It’s kind of like comparing the Bills vs Dolphins rivalry of the 90’s to today’s version.
Now, the two franchises did meet in the 99′ playoffs, with the Sabres beating the Bruins in the second round, four games to two. Of course, the star power wasn’t really quite the same, nor was the bad blood. The only funny story I remember from that series was when a Bruins player tried to poke a rebound loose from Dominik Hasek. Hasek didn’t take too kindly with the poke check and started going after the player towards the corner. By the time Hasek was about to throw a punch, he backed off, only to have all five of his Sabre teammates jump the poor guy. I so wish I could find a youtube clip of that moment.
Now, normally when I reach into my bag of memories, I try to tie in those memories with today’s events. Unfortunately, the Sabres and Bruins rivalry isn’t really there. Derek Roy and Daniel Paille aren’t going to get confused with Neely and LaFontaine. The hate for Boston just doesn’t exist.
Then it hit me. The only real memories I have of the Bruins vs Sabres is playoff hockey. I couldn’t tell you what happened between those teams during the regular season from 88′ to 93′. After the Bruins beat down the Sabres for so many years, we finally got our revenge. Then after that, it was the Flyers that kept ending our springtime hockey. However, the Sabres got even during the 98′ playoffs. Even the Sabres were doing their own dominating. The Senators couldn’t beat Buffalo in the playoffs to save their lives. Unfortunately, the tide turned and the Senators finally got their sweet revenge in the ’07 playoffs.
That’s what playoff hockey means to me. It’s passion…and revenge! It’s the final payoff for watching a long season of hockey. That’s where the hockey memories really began for me. Hopefully, this Bruins and Sabres match-up will kind of rekindle my hatred towards the B’s. Even if it doesn’t, I couldn’t be more happy for the Sabres to be in playoffs again. I’ll be watching and sporting my torn up Turgeon jersey that I finally grew into.
(OK, I made that last part up. Come on, you know I would have upgraded my jersey collection by now.)