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After impressive start, Sabres' Jeanneret taking a break

Rick Jeanneret, the soundtrack of the Sabres, has added to his greatest hits this season.

Robin Lehner’s save was amazing, but Jeanneret made it a classic. Jack Eichel’s overtime rush was scintillating, but Jeanneret made it spine-tingling.

After a first half that showed his voice still booms and his feel for the game is as sharp as ever, it’s time for Jeanneret to take a vacation.

The Hall of Fame announcer headed to Florida after calling Thursday’s game in Dallas. He’ll spend a month relaxing with his family and chatting with his friends at the track. On March 2, Jeanneret will be back in the booth.

And make no mistake, Jeanneret is back. The 74-year-old’s major health problems are behind him, and it’s clear to anyone who has heard his calls.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” Jeanneret said. “I haven’t always enjoyed the hockey because they don’t necessarily go the way you want them to, but there’s been enough excitement there. The way the team has won and the way the team has competed has kept me in the game and kept my interest up.

“I guess from a selfish point of view, that’s something I need.”

He also needed to get well. The 2014 fight with throat cancer sapped his energy and his voice. He came back a few months later, but the cancer battle had taken a toll. He got stronger last season. With a pacemaker helping out this season, he sounds as good as ever.

“I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again, I came back too soon,” Jeanneret said. “There’s no doubt about it. Sometimes you just think you can do something and you really can’t, and I did have trouble with my voice when I came back after the cancer surgery.

“But last year and into this year, I’m gung-ho. I feel chipper again.”

His excitement reverberates through the ears. The past week was proof.

When Lehner dived to his left last Saturday in Montreal, Jeanneret captured the moment the way Lehner snagged the puck.

“Oh my word!” Jeanneret bellowed. “I’ve seen everything now! Robin Lehner, if you don’t get a standing ovation, you are getting robbed blind. Huh!”

One game later, Eichel provided more overtime magic.

“Eichel, sizing up the situation, now comes in over the line, cuts in front, he shoots, he scorrrrrrrres!” said Jeanneret, speeding up while Eichel did. “Jack Eichel, coast to coast, rams it home and Buffalo – can you believe it?! – wins another one in ooooooooovertime!”

“Somebody asked me when we got on the plane the other night after Eichel had scored how I handled that one,” Jeanneret recalled. “I said, ‘You know what my problem is now? I’m running out of superlatives.’

“Maybe I do need a break right about now.”

The goals of Gilbert Perreault, Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny wouldn’t have been the same without Jeanneret, so it’s fitting he’s calling the next in line, Eichel.

“He’s incredible really,” Jeanneret said. “He’s such a game-changer. If the puck’s on his stick, the opposition better be backpedaling and doing it in a hurry.

“We saw that the other night in Nashville. It was almost like he willed the puck into the net. He knew what he was going to do, and it was almost like he was saying, ‘Go ahead. Stop me.’

“I just get the feeling when he’s going like that, that is his challenge. There’s nothing the matter with that. I don’t call it brash. I call it very confident. As long as he has that type of confidence, he’s going to be a great player.”

The way Jeanneret has been going, it would be nice to hear him under the spotlight of the playoffs again. Buffalo has a ways to go, but Jeanneret is hopeful.

“I’m hoping that they’ll be in a playoff run by the time I get back,” he said. “Certainly, they can’t continue to fight from behind. They’re going to have to start getting in the lead and hanging on to the lead. As I’ve said many times before, it’s a heck of a lot easier playing with the lead than it is trying to come from behind, particularly night after night.

“I’ll miss the games, but by the wonder of today’s electronics, I’ll be able to follow them no matter where I am and where I’m staying. I am looking forward to getting a little time off. It’s not something I would have said 20 years ago, but after 45 years or so of sitting in this seat, it’s probably a good idea.”

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