They were one of the most dominant teams in Buffalo Sabres history, their legacy hanging from the rafters in the form of division and conference championship banners. But few people mention them in conversations about which Sabres team was the best.
That's because the 1979-80 squad fell two victories shy of the Stanley Cup finals. So despite a season most teams would envy, that stellar edition of the Sabres gets listed among the also-rans.
The Sabres have clinched their first conference championship since 1980, and though this edition will always be remembered when fans look to the HSBC Arena ceiling, history suggests their legacy will be defined in the next two months.
The Sabres' previous conference winner dominated the regular season, going 47-17-16. Gilbert Perreault had 40 goals and 66 assists to lead the team with 106 points. Danny Gare scored 56 times, with Rick Martin adding 45. Goaltenders Don Edwards and Bob Sauve combined for a 2.51 goals-against average to win the Vezina Trophy, awarded back then to the team that allowed the fewest goals. They all got a late-season boost when Mike Ramsey and Rob McClanahan -- still high af ter helping the United States to the Olympic gold medal -- joined the team in March.
"Looking back, we had a good team, a real good team," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, a rookie on the '79-80 squad, said Tuesday.
They rolled over Vancouver and Chicago in the first two rounds, winning seven of eight games. But they fell into a 3-0 hole against the New York Islanders, and the eventual Stanley Cup champs won four games to two.
"I think it probably was [an underrated team], but I think with the fact you don't win it, it hurts you," Ruff said. "That part, you don't get many opportunities. I think as a young player, you think, 'Boy, this is going to happen every year.' But it didn't happen again for me."
Left wing Andrew Peters, scratched the previous two games, dressed Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins added heavyweight combatant Georges Laraque at the trade deadline, and the Sabres needed Peters to counter his muscle.
The move sent Nathan Paetsch to the press box. The defenseman had been dressing as a fourth-line winger and power-play specialist.
Sabres merchandise is still dominating the online sales charts, ruling NHL.com for the seventh straight month in March, the league announced Tuesday. Team numbers were up 657 percent compared to March 2006. All things Buffalo began flying off league shelves in September, when the team unveiled its new colors and logo.
Buffalo players took six of the top 10 spots among last month's jersey sales. Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby continues to be the league's most popular player. Sabres goalie Ryan Miller's jersey was second, followed immediately by forwards Daniel Briere and Maxim Afinogenov. Forwards Chris Drury and Jason Pominville held the sixth and seventh spots while Thomas Vanek was 10th. . . . Drew Stafford's finest play -- the one that likely cemented this week's honor as Rookie of the Month for March -- was an all-out solo effort. He undressed Washington defenseman Steve Eminger and goalie Olaf Kolzig on March 21 all by himself. But upon receiving the rookie kudos, he showed he can give an assist, too, crediting linemates Derek Roy and Vanek.
"Playing with Van and Roysie makes things a little easier out there for me," Stafford said. "It's a pretty big deal, I guess, and I'm just glad to get an opportunity to be part of the guys here."
Ruff used the furor over Sabres medallions to illustrate how far the team has come since its lackluster days as a noncontender. Said Ruff: "I think three years ago they would have been driving out throwing the medallions at you. Now they're lining up to get them."