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Missing the Playoffs, Redux

I have to say, I'm less engaged in the Stanley Cup playoffs this season than in any year in recent memory. I do plan to watch tonight's Bruins-Maple Leafs game, which will be Toronto's first home playoff game in nine seasons. At the same time, I wonder if the Sabres might be in the midst of a similarly prolonged playoff drought. The fact is, the playoffs aren't nearly as compelling when the Sabres aren't involved.

I wrote a column five years ago about missing the playoffs. The News ran it a year later. Here it is again:

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May 7--Editor's note: Jerry Sullivan wrote this column in 2008. It has been republished by popular demand.

So on Monday, I asked one of my buddies, a huge Sabres fan, if he was missing playoff hockey. On the contrary, he said he and his wife were having a great time watching the games on TV and feeling a certain relief that the Sabres aren't involved this year.

My friend said he didn't miss the anxiety, the gnawing dread that settles in your gut on the day of a playoff game and remains there until late that night. He doesn't miss popping antacids in the morning, or wondering how the boys could pull a no-show in a big playoff tilt.

He's not alone. Two Sundays ago, the local TV ratings for the Flyers-Capitals playoff game on NBC were the highest in the U. S. Yes, even higher than in Philadelphia or Washington, D. C.! Buffalo's passion for playoff hockey is unmatched in this country, and apparently it doesn't matter if the Sabres are doing their grinding on the golf course.

Still, you can't tell me people don't miss the playoffs here. You can rationalize their absence all you like, but it's just not the same when the Sabres aren't playing. Don't you remember how it felt the last two springs, when Cup fever was in the air and anything seemed possible? Are you going to tell me you don't miss that, just a little bit?

I know I miss it.

I miss the big hit that sets the tone for a series, like Brian Campbell on R. J. Umberger two years ago, reminding you that playoff hockey is a whole different animal.

I miss the simple, reassuring rhythm of games being played every other day.

I miss the Goo Goo Dolls singing "Better Days" on the Jumbotron to get things going before the games.

I miss the Sabres flags popping up on cars, like flowers blooming in spring.

I miss playoff beards.

I miss Lindy Ruff talking about his guys needing to play "out of character." I miss Ruff talking, period.

I miss the feeling that, in the hockey world, our town really matters.

I miss the buzz and murmur of the crowd before the start of an overtime.

I miss finding a place (all right, a bar) to watch road games with friends.

I miss waking up in the morning, knowing exactly what the subject of that day's column will be.

I miss Ryan Miller standing at his locker, full of earnest intensity, trying to say all the right things.

I miss Chris Drury scoring in the final seconds of regulation.

I miss Daniel Briere talking to the Quebec writers in French.

I miss the mad dash for the press elevator after an overtime game.

I miss Rick Jeanneret as the seconds tick away and he announces that we're going to "oooovertiiiime!"

I miss pregame on WGR, postgame on MSG, and rehashing the games at the Swannie House until 3 a. m.

I miss getting people all worked up about an opposing team's villain, like Sean Avery or Ray Emery.

I miss players talking about winning physical battles and creating traffic in front of the goalie.

I miss Doug Allen on the anthems.

I miss having to weave my way through the crush of people listening to music on the plaza, an hour before the puck drops inside HSBC Arena.

I miss that inevitable point in a series where we say the teams are developing a healthy disdain for each other.

I miss the byplay between the coaches in a series. I miss Ken Hitchcock dropping the "F bomb" on Ruff.

I miss how the Toronto media adopts Buffalo as a second home when the Maple Leafs are out of the picture.

I miss counting the hours 'til faceoff. I miss them being "scary good."

I miss the handshake line, no matter who wins. Tell me you don't miss it, too.

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