By HOWARD BERGER
BUFFALO (Nov. 16) — The organist at First Niagara Center pounds out the beat to “Let’s Go Buffalo!” before virtually every face-off. Perhaps he might play Deja Vu — the old song by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — next time the Toronto Maple Leafs are in town.
It mattered not, here on Saturday, that the Sabres were the worst team in the National Hockey League and couldn’t score at the Playboy Mansion. As per usual in this city, Leafs soiled the linen during an embarrassing 6–2 defeat, their second in as many nights. Losing a game here is not at all unusual for the Blue and White, nor was it the overriding factor on this occasion. More galling is that it takes Buffalo about two weeks to score six goals. On Saturday, the Sabres did it in just more than two periods.
A couple of facts you should know:
? Before the Leafs came to town, Buffalo had amassed the grand total of 24 goals in 18 games — or roughly 1.3 per match.
? The Leafs were 1–13–1 in their previous 15 visits to First Niagara Center.
Guess which trend changed on Saturday.
LEAFS ARE RARELY ABLE TO SCRATCH OUT A WIN HERE IN BUFFALO.
This game was so horrific for the Maple Leafs that goalie James Reimer — taciturn at the worst of times — lost his composure midway through the final period. After making a routine save with 10:47 to play, Reimer was accorded the ol’ Bronx cheer by everyone in attendance, half of which were disgruntled Toronto rooters. The Leafs netminder responded by acrimoniously waving his catching glove toward the fans. It was the first time — to these eyes — that Reimer had openly shown disgust in 148 NHL appearances dating to his Maple Leafs debut, at Air Canada Centre against the Atlanta Thrashers, on Dec. 20, 2010.
That’s how bad it was for the visitors. With my trusty NIKON in hand, I captured these images before, during and after the hockey game:
BAD OMEN FOR THE MAPLE LEAFS: STORM CLOUDS OVER DOWNTOWN BUFFALO AS I APPROACH CUSTOMS AT THE PEACE BRIDGE ON SATURDAY AFTERNOON.
MAIN ENTRANCE TO FIRST NIAGARA CENTER (TOP-LEFT) AND BRONZE STATUE OUTSIDE ARENA PLAZA (TOP-RIGHT) OF THE SABRES’ FAMED FRENCH CONNECTION FORWARD LINE IN THE 1970’s: RENE ROBERT, GILBERT PERREAULT AND THE LATE RICHARD MARTIN.
LEAFS STAND AT ATTENTION DURING THE AMERICAN NATIONAL ANTHEM.
OPENING FACE-OFF. YES, BUFFALO FANS HAD LOTS TO MAKE NOISE ABOUT.
TORREY MITCHELL OF BUFFALO AND TREVOR SMITH OF THE MAPLE LEAFS PUT THEIR HEADS TOGETHER AT CENTER-ICE WHILE FLANKING LINESMAN SCOTT CHERREY.
REFEREE ROB MARTELL MIGHT BE ASKING MAPLE LEAFS DEFENSEMAN ROMAN POLAK “WHAT THE HELL’S THE MATTER WITH YOU GUYS TONIGHT?”
PRESS ROW AT THE FIRST NIAGARA CENTER ON SATURDAY NIGHT WITH MY OL’ PAL MARK ZWOLINSKI OF THE TORONTO STAR MISBEHAVING. NOTHING NEW FOR ZORRO.
WHAT A TERRIFIC MOMENT AT 8:12 OF THE FIRST PERIOD AS THE VIDEO-BOARD AT FIRST NIAGARA CENTER SALUTED THE LEGENDARY VOICE OF THE SABRES — RICK JEANNERET — WHO MADE HIS FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE SEASON AFTER SUCCESSFULLY (TO THIS POINT) BATTLING THROAT CANCER. THE HALL-OF-FAME BROADCASTER, NOW 72, HAS BEEN CALLING SABRES GAMES SINCE THEIR SECOND YEAR IN THE NHL, 1971-72.
AS THE PATHETIC FIRST PERIOD UNFOLDS, MAPLE LEAFS COACH RANDY CARLYLE CONSULTS HIS NOTES WHILE ASSISTANT STEVE SPOTT CAN BARELY WATCH.
IN NINE HOME GAMES THIS SEASON PRIOR TO SATURDAY, THE SABRES HAD NOT SCORED A GOAL IN THE FIRST PERIOD. BUT, THEY SCORED TWICE AGAINST THE MAPLE LEAFS.
BANNERS AT FIRST NIAGARA CENTER COMMEMORATING YESTERYEAR: THE DONUT KING (TOP-LEFT) AND THE FIRST BUFFALO TEAM (TOP-RIGHT) TO PLAY IN THE STANLEY CUP FINAL (LOSING IN SIX GAMES TO THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS).
THE GOAL-LIGHT FLASHED WAY TOO OFTEN BEHIND LEAFS’ JAMES REIMER ON SATURDAY.
EARLY IN EACH PERIOD — WHEN THE ICE HAS BEEN SURFACED — RUTS AND SCRATCHES CAN BE SEEN RATHER CLEARLY ?? REFLECTING OFF THE BRIGHT TV LIGHTS.
LEAFS FORWARD JAMES van RIEMSDYK HAD TO CHEW ON QUITE A LOSS TO THE SABRES.
WIDE-ANGLE SHOT FROM THE FIRST NIAGARA CENTER PRESS BOX.
AS THE CARNAGE UNFOLDED, A BROODING LEAFS FAN TOOK TO CHECKING HIS I-PHONE.
LATE IN THE THIRD PERIOD, I SNEAKED UP ON MY LONG-TIME PAL, PAUL ROMANUK, AS HE CALLED SATURDAY NIGHT’S GAME FOR HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA.
THE FINAL SCORE — STILL WITH 13:42 TO PLAY.
THE LEAFS COULDN’T GET OUT OF TOWN FAST ENOUGH.
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