New owner gives Sabres reason to believe

Sabres owner Terry Pegula speaks to the media during a press conference in Buffalo, New York on...

Sabres owner Terry Pegula speaks to the media during a press conference in Buffalo, New York on Feb. 22, 2011. (GARY WIEPERT/Reuters)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:01 PM ET

BUFFALO - Not having lived through a fall of football heartbreak here, the newest Sabres star only has evidence to suggest he is playing in a hockey town.

If he's still skating in a month and a half, Brad Boyes may have a point.

That the Sabres are about to host a playoff game is not big news: The Stanley Cup final has been played here and the hockey post-season has been at least a quasi-regular visitor.

But when the Sabres face the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal Monday at the HSBC Arena, it might be the most rousing welcome a local team has faced in quite some time.

As scene setters go, it doesn't hurt that the Flyers, probably the NHL team most fans love to hate, are the opponent or that the series is split at 1-1 after two games in Philly.

As well, Saturday's 5-4 Flyers win was at least a mild throwback to the Broad Street Bully days, ensuring some extra punch to the festivities.

But the biggest factor yet may well be the reaction to the ownership of Terry Pegula, both by the team and the city that supports it. Since the billionaire took over in early February, the Sabres made a 16-4-4 push to jump up to seventh in the East and earn a playoff spot that was, at best, uncertain at Christmas.

Pegula's opening speech may have sounded to some like rich-guy talk when he declared, "From this point forward, the Buffalo Sabres' reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup."

The owner has backed it up, however, not the least by acquiring Boyes and his $4.5 million contract at the trade deadline. The Mississauga native and former Maple Leafs draft pick made an immediate impact, giving the Sabres a needed spark up front.

"Since I've been here, it's been a Sabres town and I think it will continue to be that way for sure," Boyes said Sunday after the team's optional practice at the HSBC Arena. "I know we've got a fairly loyal following here and from across the border.

"You see it everywhere you go. Whether it's to Wegman's or to the movies, I'd say 30 to 40% of the people are wearing something with Buffalo Sabres on it."

As the NHL coach who has spent the longest time in one place -- this being his 13th consecutive season -- Lindy Ruff has seen a lot in Buffalo. But he isn't so jaded that he hasn't noticed the power of Pegula.

"Just the passion he put into that first speech summed it all up," Ruff said. "It was about winning not just (being) a goal of ours but a belief.

"He's a man with a tremendous passion for the team and for Buffalo in general. What more could you ask for?"

Buffalo sports fans might ask for him to buy the Bills as well, but that's a story for another day.

For now, it's about the Sabres making the best of the home-ice advantage they earned with the 1-0 shutout win in Game 1.

As is often the case with these two teams, the story lines are developing rapidly, starting from the net out.

In Buffalo, Ryan Miller let in five in Game 2 Saturday night and you wouldn't expect that in back-to-back games. As well, Miller made it known he wasn't pleased with the ageless Flyers tactic of crashing the net and complained about it afterwards.

In Philly, the seeds for a goalie controversy were planted when Sergei Bobrovsky was yanked in the first period. While net pains are hardly headline material with the Flyers, coach Peter Laviolette only added to it Sunday when he refused to name a starter for Game 3.

"It's the playoffs and a series comes down to a battle of wills," Sabres forward Mike Grier said. "I think both teams are trying to prove to the other team that they are willing to do more than their opponent.

"It's all about standing your ground, trying to impose your will and eventually wearing them down over a seven-game series."

The city, it would seem, is ready and waiting.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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