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'May Day!' 'May Day!' 25 years ago, iconic Sabres rallying cry was born

Ask Brad May 25 years later about perhaps the most well-known goal in Buffalo Sabres history and he says he's just like you: Most of his memories come from watching the tape and listening to Rick Jeanneret's iconic radio call.

"I was absolutely almost sleepwalking in that moment," May said last week by phone from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. "It was a reactive thing. Not thinking. Reacting and doing. That's what they call 'The Zone.' If I really knew what the zone was, I'm sure I would have scored more goals and been a better player."

The "May Day" goal came 25 years ago, on April 24, 1993, in Memorial Auditorium. It gave the Sabres a 6-5 overtime victory and a stunning four-game sweep of a first-round series against the Boston Bruins, Buffalo's first playoff series victory in 10 years.

And while the goal was a virtuoso move by May in burning Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque and freezing veteran goalie Andy Moog, it has stood the test of time because of the word picture Jeanneret painted that night on WGR Radio. The cries of "May Day! May Day! May Day!" have reappeared over the airwaves every spring since then, and the league often uses them as a way to pump the playoffs when they start each April.

"It just spilled out like a couple others I've had over the years and I lucked out that people liked it," Jeanneret said earlier this month. "You have to remember it was pretty exciting for me, too. Back then, there had been a lot of close calls, but the Sabres were finally getting out of the first round of the playoffs again."

The backdrop

The Bruins were dominant during the 1992-93 season, winning the Adams Division at 51-26-7 for 109 points, while the Sabres were fourth at 38-36-10 for 86 points. Still, it was one of the most wildly entertaining seasons in Buffalo history as the team scored 335 goals, third-most in franchise history. Alexander Mogilny scored 76 goals, Pat LaFontaine had 148 points, the goaltenders (Grant Fuhr and a young Dominik Hasek) were both headed for the Hall of Fame and so was center Dale Hawerchuk.

But the season ended in disastrous fashion as the Sabres lost their final seven regular-season games and finished 23 points behind the Bruins. Boston, meanwhile, had won eight straight games entering the post-season and had taken its last four meetings with Buffalo. Most pundits gave the Sabres little chance in the series. A sweep? That was absolutely possible – in the Bruins' favor.

But the Sabres quickly got things rolling by taking both games in Boston Garden, winning the opener on an OT goal by former Bruin Bob Sweeney. They returned to Memorial Auditorium and won Game Three after just 65 seconds of OT on a goal by Yuri Khmylev. That left the whole town revved up for Game Four, a Saturday night.

Brad May, right, and Pat LaFontaine celebrate May's game-winning overtime goal at Memorial Auditorium on April 24, 1993. (Bill Wippert/Special to The News)

But the hysteria of a sweep was quieted. The Bruins broke a 4-2 lead after one period and Fuhr didn't come back for the second due to a knee strain. Hasek replaced him and gave up Dave Poulin's short-handed goal at 2:13 of the second. The Sabres were suddenly down, 5-2, and staring squarely at a return to Boston for Game Five. That, however, was the only goal Hasek would give up on 24 shots.

Buffalo didn't quit. Donald Audette scored in the second period and Mogilny tallied his second of the night – and sixth in four games – on assists from May and LaFontaine with 9:17 to go to bring the fans back at 5-4. Just 53 seconds later, Khmylev took a Hawerchuk feed in front and tied the game at 5-5.

That was it for regulation. It was overtime again for the third time in the series. Early in OT, prior to a faceoff in the Boston end, the Empire Sports Network cameras caught May kissing his stick as if to get some good luck out of it.

May needed some at the time. A 13-goal man during the regular season, May went the last 27 games of the season without a goal. He had not scored since Feb. 17 against Hartford and had not even had a shot on goal in the first three games of the series.

May came clean last week about the stick kiss. He was actually having fun with the fans in the gold seats after using the stick to pick up an octopus or squid that had been thrown on the ice early in OT.

"I kissed my stick because I touched the fish, not because I was trying to score the goal or thinking I was going to score," said May, now a television analyst with the Vegas Golden Knights. "Then I saw a couple days later TV running the video together and now it's done all the time. It's not really the real story but we all do it: Good stories can be rewritten and retold and that's one of them.

"When I did that in that corner, I looked in the crowd and people in the golds were smiling and laughing so I turned back to the ice kissed the stick. It was more of like, 'Yeah, I'm an idiot'. I was just having fun."

As it turned out, the real fun was just about to happen.

The goal

The play started in the Buffalo zone as defenseman Keith Carney controlled the puck and got it to LaFontaine. Sliding on the ice as he hit the red line, LaFontaine found May streaking through the neutral zone and got a pass off to him.

May got the puck just as he hit the Boston blue line and appeared to be heading down the right wing as Bourque moved from the middle of the ice and crossed over to his left. But May stunned Bourque by pulling the puck between the defenseman's legs with a right-hand move of the stick as Bourque whiffed on both the puck and the man. May was in alone on Moog.

Sabres sweep with 6-5 OT win: May's goal ends playoff drought as Bruins ousted

"I had a front-row seat," LaFontaine told NHL.com in 2013 as the goal turned 20. "I see it's Brad May, and then he makes an inside-outside move on Ray Bourque. I had to do a double-take and make sure it was No. 27. He is such a great guy and had a tremendous career, but you don't expect guys who are deemed more power forwards in a sense to make moves like that. He wasn't that kind of finesse player, so to make a move like that against a Hall of Famer like Bourque ... it was special."

Look closely at the replay from the low camera stationed in the Zamboni entrance and you can see all the players on the Buffalo bench bolt to their feet in anticipation when May got the puck through Bourque. May used a quick slapshot fake to freeze Moog, then moved to his left around the goalie. The net was wide open and May didn't miss, putting the puck home at 4:48 of OT to end the series.

May burst down the ice in celebration, making it all the way back to the opposite blue line before Hasek grabbed him. He was eventually mobbed by teammates in the opposite corner nearly 200 feet from where he had scored.

Said Empire television analyst Jim Lorentz: "Was that Mogilny or was that Brad May?"

"Ray Bourque and I have talked about this play," May said, laughing. "I had the puck on one hand and he was expecting me to chip the puck in, lay it down along the boards and try to hit him again. All series long, that was my whole mission. John Muckler had coached me that way for that series.

"I was playing with Patty and Alex. 'Mucks' wanted me to backcheck like a demon, be the first one on the forecheck and 'You hit Ray Bourque every chance you get.' That was the mission. So Ray says to me one time, 'I expected to get hit again and you did that to me, you piece of bleep. I could not believe it.' He was coming across to angle me to the sideboards and he just missed."

May had back-to-back 30-goal seasons in junior for the Niagara Falls Thunder, including some playoff overtime goals, and he was the Sabres' first-round draft pick in 1990 so he knew he was capable of such a move. Still, the numbers show why it was the biggest goal of his life.

May played 1,041 NHL games for seven teams until retiring in 2010 and scored 127 goals. He played 88 career playoff games, including 18 as part of Anaheim's 2007 Cup champions, and only scored four postseason goals.

"I knew I could use that move," he said. "In practice like that, you try to beat your teammates every day. There's no question I made that move before where 19 out of 20 times it doesn't work and the guys tell you where you can shove that move. But when you get to that point, you're not thinking because you've practiced it. You've prepared. I rememeber the fake shot. Andy Moog was an aggressive goaltender and I remember winding up for a shot and freezing him."

"If this was an exhibition game, that I would remember forever," Buffalo defenseman Ken Sutton told reporters after the game. "And this was overtime. In a situation like that to do something like that ... usually it's an ugly goal that wins it. That was as pretty a goal as you'll ever see. He was not to be denied. That was our No. 1 goal all year."

In the booth

You can find the Empire television call on YouTube from then-Sabres voice John Gurtler and it's fine. But with hysteria about the win sweeping town, things took off the next day when local TV stations started pairing the video with Jeanneret's description on the radio.

The veteran announcer's volume seemed to rise as the puck moved down the ice, his anticipation growing with each passing second: "Getting it up to LaFontaine. He gets tripped up. Gets it to May. In over the line. Here's May going in on goal. He shoots. He scores!"

Then came the coup de grâce from Jeanneret. Five times in a row: "May Day! May Day! May Day! May Day! May Day!"

The call continued with Jeanneret describing how the Sabres had swept the series and ending with, "Ohhhhhh, how do you spell second round?" But the play is forever known as the "May Day" goal because of the cries emanating from that tiny booth hanging from the rafters of the Aud.

As he's said many times in the intervening years, Jeanneret wasn't planning the call. May hadn't scored a goal in more than two months. By repeating "May Day," Jeanneret was giving himself a few extra seconds to plan his next words.

"I hadn't had a chance to formulate my thoughts," Jeanneret said. "You couldn't plan on that. We were all so happy the Sabres won and you start thinking about the next round and then the next morning I started getting calls about it. Today obviously it would have gotten around a lot quicker, almost instantly. But back then, that was still pretty fast. It was in the playoffs and the audience interest is up."

Fans in Memorial Auditorium rejoice after Brad May scores the winning overtime goal against the Boston Bruins on April 24, 1993. (Bill Wippert/Special to The News)

A nickname was born, one that has stuck with May for a quarter century.

"I was always 'Maysie' or 'Mazor' or whatever," May said. "It didn't happen immediately but over the course of the next few months, that became my name. And here we are now, it's my name on social media (his twitter feed is @MayDayhockey), my son is "Junior MayDay" with all his friends. My nephew plays hockey and his teammates call him MayDay. I owe that to Rick. Whatever was in his head at that time – even if it was disbelief that it was me who scored and not, say, Al Mogilny – you have to love it."

May said he was out until about 5 a.m. celebrating after the goal and he and his then-fiancee didn't wake up until the next afternoon. It wasn't until two days after the game that he learned what Jeanneret had said to describe the goal.

"The call gives the whole thing color and defines the moment," May said. "When Rick was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (in 2012), I was fortunate enough to be there. When they announced him, they played that call when he was introduced to the crowd. That call, his voice. If I never have a chance to get in the Hockey Hall of Fame, my name is tied with Rick Jeanneret, who is a Hall of Famer. Obviously I scored, but the whole moment is illustrated by his call."

The call remains a signature of the playoffs, routinely used by the league each spring in ads run on NBC and the NHL Network to get fans pumped for the playoffs.

"I love that," Jeanneret said. "It makes me feel like I did this year when they had my bobblehead – that there's still some value left for the old man. People are still paying attention."

The aftermath

The Sabres moved on to the next round but injuries to LaFontaine, Mogilny, Carney and Doug Bodger ruined their chances and they were swept by Montreal – losing all four games by 4-3 scores, with three of them coming in overtime.

"The bottom line is the Montreal Canadiens won all those overtime games, went on to win the Stanley Cup and earned every bit of it," May said. "They were a better team than us all season. The better team won, but I think maybe we didn't realize how good we were and how close we were.

May Day! Sabre savors his sudden celebrity

"We had Hall of Famers and Al Mogilny should be in there, too, in my opinion. We had a great team and a bunch of idiots, too, like Robby Ray and myself. We had a lot of fun, had the makings of being a big winner. It's disappointing we didn't finish that season off better. But Montreal winning 10 overtime games in one playoff year is amazing. They earned every right to win."

May's goal is one of five the Sabres have scored in overtime to win a playoff series in their history. The '93 series against Boston and the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals over Ottawa are the only postseason series to see Buffalo win three overtime games.

"It's been pretty cool for me because every time the playoffs roll around it starts getting replayed," said May. "A couple years ago the NHL asked me to come to New York after the season to shoot the 'Stories of the Cup.' They played that goal going into the playoffs, in and out of the broadcasts. They had Stefan Matteau, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, guys who have scored amazing goals in the playoffs.

"That was 20-something years later but it really hit me that day. I was thinking, 'This thing is never going to go away.' "

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