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The Wraparound: New name for Sabres' arena; goalies doom Ruff as Stars eliminated

When the Sabres' home became First Niagara Center in 2011, it was touted as joining "two of the hottest brands in our region."

"It's two teams very much on the rise, two organizations committed to winning," said John Koelmel, then the president and CEO of First Niagara Bank. "We're incredibly proud that the First Niagara banner will be flying over the home ice for many years to come."

Yeah, well ...

The Sabres never won in First Niagara Center, failing to make the playoffs in the five seasons with that name on the arena. KeyBank is in the final stages of purchasing First Niagara, so the bank's banner will fly no longer.

Beth Mooney, CEO of Key, said Wednesday the bank is finalizing plans to pick up the naming rights agreement.

“There are a handful of pending approvals,” Mooney said. “I’m leaning in to say it will be KeyBank Center.”

The plan is to have the arena branded as KeyBank Center by the time the 2016-17 season starts in October. It would be foolish for Key to wait that long. Buffalo is hosting the 2016 NHL Draft in June, and the arena will get more attention during the draft than any one game of the season. Key would waste a massive marketing opportunity.

With the hockey books closed on First Niagara Center, here are the playoff breakdowns with each name on the arena:

*Marine Midland Arena: Three appearances in three seasons.

*HSBC Arena: Six appearances in 11 seasons.

*First Niagara Center: Zero appearances in five seasons.

*KeyBank Center: ? in ?.

(For the record, the Sabres have made the playoffs just four times in my 14 seasons covering them. Not good, but still better than Mike Harrington's 2 for 9.)

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Lindy Ruff and goalies. Aside from Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller, it's rarely been a good combination.

Netminders did in Ruff once again Wednesday. Kari Lehtonen allowed three first-period goals, including one with four seconds left, as St. Louis routed Dallas, 6-1, to eliminate the Stars in Game Seven.

 

 

"Right now is not the time to assess blame," Ruff said. "You got to look at the whole picture. You got to take the fact you didn't score and you had some situations that you needed to score. If you're going to beat a good team, you need to score two at the same time. You need to put some of those situations away.

"He'd want them back," Ruff said of Lehtonen. "I think maybe it's on me. Maybe with that review and maybe looked like he got a little bit rattled. I should've taken him out sooner. Yeah, maybe after the second one because I already had a review on a goal I didn't like. You have one decision, so that's probably on me."

With neither Lehtonen nor Antti Niemi claiming the No. 1 job during the season, Ruff used both in the playoffs. It got them within a game of the Western Conference final, but with shaky goaltending and an injury to center Tyler Seguin, the Stars couldn't oust the Blues.

"It's a huge disappointment," Ruff said. "We had good energy, but it's a tough way to end. It's not our team. We came out and I thought we were skating well, but they're a good team and we missed a couple of looks. We probably had to win that game 2-1. Even when we started pushing we missed too many good opportunities to get back in it.

"It's not the ending you want. It's a big disappointment."

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Steve Ott returned to the lineup for the Blues after being a scratch, and he made a first-period impact to help set the tone.

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Fans are hoping for a better Game Seven on Thursday. San Jose hosts Nashville at 9 p.m. on NBCSN for the right to face the Blues.

"Everything you work for comes down to one game," San Jose's Joe Thornton said. "It's a great feeling."

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