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Sabres pulling for Bills -- even as they face off right at kickoff

PHILADELPHIA -- Sabres winger Zemgus Girgensons was fired up last Sunday, like most everybody else in Western New York. Girgensons had practiced outside at Citi Field and was in New York City for New Year's Eve. Not a bad deal in itself. But then came the Bills and Bengals daily double that finally got Buffalo back in the NFL playoffs.

Girgensons, by most accounts the No. 1 Bills fan in the Sabres locker room, was stoked to get a look at the matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Then he saw the kickoff time.

Sunday at 1 p.m. Exactly the same time the Sabres will be facing off in the Wells Fargo Center against the Philadelphia Flyers -- in a hockey game much of the Buffalo fan base probably won't see a second of. Or even care much about.

"Yeah, that really kind of stinks," Girgensons said with laugh during a down moment on the team's current three-game road trip. "I didn't even think about that at first and then I realized it. It would be fun to watch that. It would have been awesome if it was in Buffalo too. That would have been a sight to see."

You can bet the Sabres will be sneaking a look at the scoreboard to find out what's going on with Terry Pegula's other team. While #OneBuffalo is mostly a catchy marketing cliche, there are moments like this week where it's real too because it's a shared feeling connecting fans and, in fact, players and coaches on both of the city's major league teams.

"We feel like we're kind of one big team because of Terry and Kim. We root for each other," Girgensons said. "It's nice to see the Bills accomplish something like that. All the best to them. I really think if they can stop the run, they'll be good."

Sabres players routinely pop up on Twitter and Instagram on the sidelines or in the stands at Bills games. And the Bills are regulars in KeyBank Center, with offensive lineman Eric Wood and Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas among those becoming massive hockey fans over the years.

The coaches have mingled as well. Dan Bylsma loved chatting with Rex Ryan over the last couple of years and Sean McDermott was spotted at development camp last summer with Phil Housley and Terry Pegula.

"Sean has done a terrific job with his group," Housley said. "He made some difficult decisions early about personnel and stayed the course. They had something they believed in and it's great to see him have success. I know for the fans and our community, you can see the energy it's bringing. Not only to the Bills but for us as well. It's great they finally broke that seal and got back in the playoffs."

Former Sabre Tyler Ennis, now with Minnesota, is another huge Bills backer and has made it clear on several occasions he's a Tyrod Taylor fan.

Prior to the Wild's November visit to Toronto, Ennis spotted a Buffalo News reporter in the Air Canada Centre dressing room hallway and immediately turned the tables and became the inquisitor. All the questions were about the Bills.

Ennis wasn't by a TV that gave him the dual action of the Bills-Dolphins and Ravens-Bengals games but was following on Twitter.

"When I saw the clip of the Andy Dalton play, it was wild," Ennis said when the Sabres were in Minnesota on Thursday. "And it just got more and more awesome with all the videos of the fans and then the ones of them waiting for the plane. That's so cool because it's a great fan base. They've waited a long time. Seventeen years? I'm so happy for them."

Ennis played on the Sabres' last two playoff teams, in 2010 and 2011. Girgensons, who began his NHL career in 2013, has yet to experience the feeling and won't be able to again this year with the Sabres mired at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

"You see what the fans are like when a Buffalo team makes the playoffs," Girgensons said. "It's a big deal. It motivates us to push. We want that for us someday too."

Ennis said he knows that past and current Sabres feel particularly good for the Pegulas, whose purchase of the Bills in 2014 ensured their long-term stability in Buffalo.

"Terry and Kim's heart and soul are in Buffalo," Ennis said. "They've proven that and showed that time and time again. There's been a lot of heartache involved for people in waiting 17 years. To see them make the playoffs is great and I think they match up well with Jacksonville. So many of those players deserve to get a chance and so many fans have waited for a chance to watch them in the playoffs for a long time. I'm so happy for everyone back there."


With the long travel from Winnipeg and three games in four days, the Sabres took Saturday off. Defenseman Taylor Fedun, who had missed 23 games with an ankle injury, is healthy and returned to the ice Friday night in Rochester for the Amerks' overtime victory over Bridgeport. Fellow blueliner Brendan Guhle got the game-winning goal.

The Sabres enter Sunday's game with two straight regulation losses for the first time since they dropped four in a row from Nov. 25-Dec. 2. The Flyers, meanwhile, will be playing Sunday on a back-to-back as they hosted St. Louis Saturday afternoon before meeting the Sabres in a second straight matinee.

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