The Sabres and their fans say goodbye Wednesday. Will it be a fond farewell? Good riddance? Or, like many other nights, will the sides barely acknowledge each other?
As the players prepared for the home finale against Montreal, they reflected on the folks who regularly journey to KeyBank Center. The Sabres recognize fun times have been lacking in the Buffalo sports world.
They’re sorry for contributing to it.
“They’re very supportive fans,” goaltender Robin Lehner said Tuesday. “They deserve better. They deserve better than what they’ve got.”
The Sabres will head into the game with the 23rd-best home record in the NHL. They’re 19-15-6 with 105 goals for and 110 goals against. Last season, they went 16-19-6.
“It’s been a mediocre two years,” center Jack Eichel said. “More than anything, it’s a bit disappointing, a bit embarrassing for us as players that we can’t be better for them. You want to please the fans because of all they’ve been through and all they continue to put up with. You just want to be better.”
After nights like Monday, it’s easy to think the Sabres don’t care. They had one of the worst opening periods in who knows how long, getting outshot, 18-2, while falling into a 3-0 hole. The 4-2 loss to Toronto had “run for the bus” written all over it.
But the Sabres insist they do care. They say they want to make up for it. They’ve seen sections of empty seats in other arenas, yet that’s not the case in Buffalo. The fans may not be the loudest – primarily because they don’t have much to cheer for – but they show up night after night.
“Pretty loyal to us, obviously,” Eichel said. “If we don’t play well, they’re here. Play good, they’re here. Play bad, they’re here.
“I’ve got nothing but great things to say about these fans.”
The no-show against the Maple Leafs, Buffalo’s third straight loss, put the players in a quiet, discouraged mood. If they multiply Tuesday’s feeling with six seasons of no hockey playoffs and 17 years without a meaningful football game, they’ll have an idea of what the fan base is experiencing.
“They just want to win,” defenseman Jake McCabe said. “That’s what it comes down to. Between us and the Bills, there’s obviously a huge playoff drought. I don’t know how many years the Bills haven’t made the playoffs. For us, we’re going on six.
“If I’m a fan base, I’m frustrated as well. We’re all frustrated in here. It’s no fun being out of a playoff spot. I understand the frustration.”
The home finale is typically a fun event. Players hand season-ticket holders the jerseys off their back and announce their winners for team MVP, Rookie of the Year, Unsung Hero and Man of the Year. Plane rides, pizzas, sunglasses, caps and a raffle prize of at least $25,000 will be given away.
It will all be meaningless if the Sabres play like they did Monday.
“You just saw it, you just felt it coming out from puck drop,” Lehner said. “I felt they came out with a goal, and we didn’t really have one. Skilled team over there, good players, and they came out with a goal. It was a pretty ugly one.”
Added defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen: “What happened in that first period, we can’t let that ever happen again.”
It sounds good. But the Sabres have been good with words all year. They’ve got one last chance to show the home crowd they can back them up.
“Thanks to all of them for supporting us throughout the year,” Eichel said. “We’ve got one left, and we’ll just put it all out there for them and try to win a hockey game and try to bring some excitement to the building.”