June 1, 2006 -- This one hurt. The Buffalo Sabres were only 20 minutes away from reaching the Stanley Cup finals. They had a one-goal lead over the Carolina Hurricanes -- in Carolina, no less -- in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference finals.
Alas, the Sabres just didn't have enough horsepower to make it to a date with the Edmonton Oilers in the finals. Carolina took a 4-2 win to take the series.
Buffalo had been losing defensemen throughout the playoffs that year, but had overcome the losses in nearly heroic fashion. However, Jay McKee became ill on the eve of Game Seven and wasn't ready to go. The Sabres had too much inexperience on the blue line, and the Hurricanes rallied to win.
"Those guys in the room are a special group that never used an excuse all year long," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Even tonight, they gave it everything they absolutely had."
They did that, but the Sabres players were saddened about a missed opportunity.
"Right now it's an empty feeling," forward Daniel Briere said. "Not too much you can think of that's going to make you feel good. When we look back I'm sure we'll be very proud of what we did and where we went with this team that nobody believed in from the start. But right now it seems like we're so close and so far at the same time."
Sure enough, the Hurricanes went on to defeat the Oilers, the eighth seed in the West, to claim its first and only Stanley Cup.
--- Budd Bailey