Brian Campbell remembers how it used to be. The Buffalo Sabres defenseman has skated around HSBC Arena on nights when there seemed to be more popcorn vendors than fans in the lower bowl.
"I've been around here for a while," Campbell said. "Coming to the rink now, it's nice because I know where this team's been and how it's come back and survived."
The Sabres filled HSBC Arena to capacity 18 times last season. Tonight they will record their 19th sellout in 19 games when they host the Atlanta Thrashers.
Fans have not only been plentiful this season, they've also been festive. Players admit the raucous atmosphere has buoyed them.
"You know you want to work hard for your fans and give them a good show," Campbell said. "They reward you by thanking you and applauding you and taking an interest to the point it becomes the community's team.
"Some nights you just don't have it in your legs, but you can manage to get by with a little lift," Campbell said. "It's just a nice feeling. I would never want to go back to the way it was."
Backup goalie Martin Biron, the only Sabre who once called Memorial Auditorium home, has seen his share of paltry crowds. Biron said players feel the difference.
"There's games when you have 10,000 fans in the stands and that switch, where the crowd was electrifying, was never there," Biron said. "Sometimes the elements that help momentum to change, it's the same thing to a bounce here or there on the ice.
"To have your crowd behind you is a boost. If there's a race for the puck and you hear the crowd cheering for you, maybe you're not skating faster, but you feel like you are anyway."
On nights when he's not playing, Biron looks forward to checking out the homemade signs.
"This is one thing you see in this building that you don't see in a lot of buildings are the signs everywhere about the players," Biron said. "[Thursday] night there was a pretty good one: 'My favorite Briere at the local Drury is Miller.'
"I like the Pominville population signs, where the one says 18,690 and the other one says the amount of goals he's got. '[Rick] Jeanneret for President,' I mean, you would never see any other building having a sign for the play-by-play guy. That's just Buffalo."
The Thrashers, winners of five straight, are merely the latest surging team the Sabres have encountered the past two weeks.
The Sabres snapped the Carolina Hurricanes' four-game streak Thursday, ended the Washington Capitals' four-game road streak on Tuesday, earned a point last Saturday against the St. Louis Blues, who are riding a six-game point streak, and snuffed Nashville's 12-game home streak Dec. 21.
"Our test is we know we're playing good teams on a roll and we're going to have to play our best to win," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
The Sabres are 9-2-0-1 against Southeast Division foes. . . . The Sabres are only 5-4-1-1 on Saturday nights. . . . In the 16 games Jason Pominville has scored, the Sabres have yet to lose in regulation.