OTTAWA -- I'll admit it. I'd forgotten what the most enthralling sport is.
It's playoff hockey. Thanks, Rangers and Flyers, for the reminder Friday night.
It's intensity from the fans and players from opening puck drop to final buzzer. It's minute-to-minute momentum shifts. It's proven performers (Chris Drury) finding the net. It's the most unlikely player (Jody Shelley) scoring a goal. It's goalies feeling helpless as pucks wildy bounce and deflect past them. It's immediate redemption, with Brian Boucher almost burying a pass into his own net, then diving to rob a player to keep his team alive.
It's finishing every check. It's players staying aware after releasing the puck because they know the hit is coming. It's scrums and cross-checks anytime someone nears the crease. It's going to the box for two minutes, then stepping back out and fighting, earning a trip for another five (Scott Hartnell). It's trying to whack home a covered puck, then getting whacked because of it.
It's folks filling the pub to watch. It's everyone glued to the TV, even if some can't name the Original Six and have a conversation about the "32" NHL teams. It's the same teams and people coming back to do it again.
It's playoff hockey, and there's nothing like it.
There's no playoff intensity in Canada's capital at the moment, with the Senators locked in fifth and Buffalo more than likely on a path for third. But that doesn't mean tonight will be boring.
It's Daniel Alfredsson Day in Ottawa, with the Senators honoring their captain for playing his 1,000th game with the team this week. The boards in Scotiabank Place have his number (11) between every ad, and it's painted in the ice behind the nets.
There's a ceremony of 20-plus minutes scheduled before the game, with CBC covering it live and the Sabres' broadcast trying to find things to fill the time.
"It’s something I’m definitely looking forward to," Alfredsson said today. "I’m happy that my family was able to come over [from Sweden], some friends, and obviously the people at home with all our fans.
"I’m going to try to take it all in as much as you can. I have no idea [what my emotions will be], to be honest, but it will be special, I’m sure."
6:34 p.m.: Bad news for the Sabres. The Senators have perfected cloning and every Ottawa player is No. 11 Daniel Alfredsson. This game will be 20-0 since Alfie averages more than a point per game against the Sabres (76 games, 38 goals, 40 assists, 78 points).
Ohhhhhhh, they just announced it's actually the other players just wearing auctionable Alfie outfits. I thought my theory was the correct one. Silly me.
6:50 p.m.: But if the Sens ever do figure out cloning, they can start with center Mike Fisher's girlfriend, Carrie Underwood, and send one to Blasdell.
7:06 p.m.: Alfredsson hasn't even taken the ice yet and already this place is rocking, and the ceremony is already cool.
7:25 p.m.: The ceremony is over (Cheap Plug Alert: Read all about it in Sunday's Sabres Notebook), and Lyndon Slewidge is done with the anthems. As soon as the red carpet gets rolled up, we'll be off and playing.
7:30 p.m.: Chris Neil gets called for hooking just 1:32 in. Meanwhile, Montreal is already beating Toronto, 1-0. If Montreal loses and several other things happen, a first-round matchup of Buffalo-Boston would be cemented tonight. But odds are good we'll be waiting till Sunday.
7:34 p.m.: The Sabres' main goal was to leave this weekend healthy. Not gonna happen, by the looks of it. Andy Sutton lambastes Drew Stafford with a clean, crushing hit with 17:25 to go. The right winger took a pass and got caught in the crosshairs. He stayed facedown on the ice and eventually was helped to the dressing room by athletic trainer Tim Macre.
Raffi Torres hit Sutton and was called for interference, ending the Buffalo power play.
7:37 p.m.: Alfredsson almost caps his night with the opening goal, but he somehow missed an open net after Tim Kennedy gave the puck away with 15:45 to go.
7:40 p.m.: If I were the remaining Sabres, I'd make sure to keep my head up when playing against the line featuring Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu. What a pairing that is. No score, 11:50 to go.
7:42 p.m.: Just 45 seconds after Ryan Miller stones Alfredsson on a point-blank chance, Thomas Vanek celebrates his 24th goal. Pascal Leclaire stopped Adam Mair's blast, and the rebound caromed to Vanek for an open net with 10:46 left. It's 1-0 Buffalo.
7:45 p.m.: First commercial break features taped messages on the scoreboard by Alfredsson's Team Sweden pals, including Peter Forsberg, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom. Not sure what Mats Sundin said in his tribute because the Sens fans booed the former Toronto captain throughout.
7:50 p.m.: Lots of high-fives welcoming back Vanek as he scores again with 7:22 left. Derek Roy gets the puck behind the net and feeds the winger as he heads toward the net. His top-shelf shot gives Buffalo a 2-0 lead over its nemesis.
7:52 p.m.: We head to commercial as Jason Pominville heads to the penalty box for tripping with 5:55 to go. No sign of Stafford.
7:56 p.m.: Senators' power play ends nine seconds early when Peter Regin holds the stick of Paul Gaustad with 4:04 remaining.
7:59 p.m.: Just got word from the Sabres that Stafford has an upper-body injury and will not return. There's 1:15 to go, and it's still 2-0.
8:03 p.m.: The Sabres head to dressing room with 2-0 lead and 13-9 shot advantage, but they can't feel like winners after losing Stafford.
8:18 p.m.: If things remain the same in three games -- Buffalo is beating Ottawa, the Devils are beating the Islanders and Montreal is ahead of Toronto -- not one playoff situation for the Sabres would be decided tonight. They could still finish second or third in the East, and they could still play Boston or Montreal. But we'll see.
8:23 p.m.: The Senators own possession time in the first 1:56 of the period.
8:28 p.m.: Vanek won't be getting his hat trick in the next four minutes. He just took a double-minor for high-sticking Zack Smith with 16:31 to go.
8:32 p.m.: The Sabres' second-ranked penalty kill, as usual, does its job. But the Senators get on the board seconds later. Ruutu gets the puck behind the net and feeds a wide-open Neil at the top of the crease. It's 2-1 with 12:17 to go.
8:34 p.m.: If the Sabres lose and New Jersey or Pittsburgh wins, the Sabres will be the No. 3 seed.
8:38 p.m.: Vanek gets his hat trick, scoring on a penalty shot with 11:03 to go. He was slashed on the ankle on a breakaway by Andy Sutton, prompting Sabres goalie coach Jim Corsi to SCREAM behind me, "That's [expletive] criminal!" But Vanek goes backhand on the free attempt to give the Sabres a 3-1 lead.
8:40 p.m.: Tim Kennedy goes to the box for slashing with 10:16 to go.
8:42 p.m.: If you want to see the Alfie videos, go here. Or don't. It's up to you.
8:44 p.m.: Ruutu and Adam Mair go to the box with 8:03 left after Ruutu boards Kennedy. Mair then drops his gloves and so Ruutu, but the linesmen quickly step in.
8:46 p.m.: In honor of Masters weekend ... FOUR! And yes, I know that's "fore" in golf, but that's four goals for Vanek. He knocks a rebound out of midair with 6:48 to go, scoring a power-play goal. He now has 27 goals after entering the building with 23.
8:51 p.m.: Fisher gets a penalty with 4:54 to go, giving Vanek a chance to become the first Ottawa opponent to score five times in a game. The four goals are a career high for Vanek.
8:56 p.m.: Sens kill the penalty and force Miller to make his second short-handed breakaway save of the night. It's 4-1 with 2:35 to go.
8:59 p.m.: The Sabres are 20 minutes away from a rare victory over Ottawa. They head to the dressing room with a 4-1 lead and a 21-20 shot deficit. Ottawa is 25-6-4 against Buffalo since the lockout.
9:19 p.m.: The final period begins with a boarding penalty and scrum. Gaustad boards Chris Kelly just 38 seconds in, drawing the attention of -- who else? -- Neil and Ruutu. Gaustad, who injured his shoulder in a fight last month, had no desire to drop the gloves but absorbed a couple of face-washes for his act. Gaustad held off Neil with his stick, drawing an additional roughing penalty. Ruutu also heads to the box.
9:30 p.m.: Neil heads to the box for slashing Tyler Ennis with 11:51 to go.
9:34 p.m.: Derek Roy, who took six shots through the opening two periods, scores with 9:44 left to give the Sabres a 5-1 lead. He flipped home a rebound to send folks in red Alfie T-shirts up the aisles to the exits.
9:39 p.m.: The Canadiens have just clinched a playoff spot by going to overtime with Toronto.
9:41 p.m.: Shean Donovan cuts the Senators' deficit to 5-2 with 6:40 left as I crane my neck to watch the OT in Montreal, trying to get a handle on the seeding scenarios with deadline approaching. Not that you should care.
9:44 p.m.: Toronto wins.
9:50 p.m.: Sabres win, 5-2. Boston earned the sixth seed Saturday by beating Carolina in the afternoon and watching Montreal lose to Toronto in overtime at night. Positions Seven and Eight will be set Sunday when the New York Rangers visit Philadelphia. A Rangers victory would give Montreal the seventh spot, while a Flyers win would put Philly at No. 7.