Bryan Smolinski sure had the look of a winner.
As he stood stock still, arms raised toward the Scotiabank Place rafters after his go-ahead goal with just 71 seconds remaining, he greeted his swarming Ottawa teammates with a sly grin that seemed to say, "We finally got these guys."
Then Buffalo threw two more haymakers, Ottawa's punch-drunk goalie faltered, and one of the wildest games in recent Stanley Cup playoffs history wound up in the win column for the Sabres.
This was certainly playoff hockey as commissioner Gary Bettman envisioned it when the league was revived in October with a robust set of rule changes.
It's still edge-of-your-seat hockey. But you no longer hold your breath knowing that a single goal can be a backbreaker. It's edge-of-your-seat because at any moment a scoring chance can materialize.
And there were plenty of scoring chances Friday.
Ottawa and Buffalo combined for four goals in the first seven minutes of the first period, three goals in the opening five minutes of the second period and another four tallies in the two breathtaking minutes that constituted the end of regulation and overtime.
Through a scheduling quirk, these teams are off until Monday. Buffalo will actually go home before returning to Game 2. Goalies Ryan Miller and Ray Emery will probably welcome a breather, but do they really want to face three lines of fresh forwards Monday?
Speaking of rest, did Anaheim have any business coming out and jumping all over Colorado just a day removed from a Game 7 against Calgary? The Ducks managed to make the Flames look disinterested in that series clincher and Friday Colorado just looked overwhelmed.
THIRD STAR OF THE DAY
Just 48 hours after blanking Calgary in Game 7, Anaheim goalie Ilya Bryzgalov became the first goalie this season to record two playoff shutouts. He's also the first rookie to post back-to-back playoff shutouts since 1945. This was another thoroughly dominating performance from Anaheim and the Ducks' defensemen made Bryzgalov's life easy for much of the night, but the game remained scoreless until the 2:38 mark of the second period and several key saves prevented Colorado from snatching momentum.
SECOND STAR OF THE DAY
Philadelphia couldn't handle Buffalo's speed. Ottawa may be able to match it, but they can't contain it, either. Derek Roy got the motor started Friday, setting up Buffalo's first goal on a pinpoint pass to Mike Grier just 35 seconds in. He added four more points, including a key shorthanded goal and an assist on Tim Connolly's game-tying goal late in regulation. The Sabres right wing has three goals, five assists and a plus-7 rating in Buffalo's last two playoff victories.
FIRST STAR OF THE DAY
Tim Connolly's chip shot over Ray Emery with 11 seconds remaining in regulation wasn't his prettiest goal Friday, but it was clearly the most important. That tying goal capped a three-point night that saw Connolly generate two goals on spectacular shorthanded plays. In the first period he finished off an end-to-end rush by banking the puck off the hip of goalie Ray Emery and into the net. With 1:37 left in the third period – again with Buffalo on the penalty kill – he finished off a 2-on-1 by setting up Derek Roy for (another) game-tying goal.
This wasn't Ray Emery's finest hour. The Ottawa goalie fought the puck all night – in the end allowing seven goals on just 23 shots – and showed none of the confidence he displayed in round 1. A bit of indecision did him in late in regulation. After a Buffalo dump-in came to rest just beside the Ottawa net, Emery briefly made a motion to play the puck (or perhaps freeze it), but had second thoughts and stayed in his crease. Buffalo pounced on the loose puck and Emery never seemed to regain his poise on the ensuing scoring chance. Seconds later, the puck was behind him. Give him credit, however, for standing up and taking responsibility for Friday's loss. He was hung out to dry on several odd-man rushes but didn't call out his teammates.
Ottawa defenseman Anton Volchenkov can't blame bad ice for the turnover that led to Buffalo's game-winning goal. Just 18 seconds had ticked off the clock since a fresh sheet was prepared for overtime. Volchenkov simply fanned on a pass, then compounded problems by losing the puck at his feet and, finally, making a headlong dive to block Chris Drury's shot that succeeded only in providing a partial screen. Just the kind of mistake you can't afford to have in overtime.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR SATURDAY
Game 1: New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes: Martin Brodeur has appeared in 148 career playoff games. Cam Ward will be making his sixth appearance Saturday. Does it matter? Probably not. First-time playoff goalies rule in 2006, as no fewer than five are still alive in this postseason. These are two of the hottest teams in the NHL. Plenty of veteran leadership on both sides. Also plenty of youth and speed. If there's a semifinal series that seems destined for seven games, it's this one.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT Watch
Best goal of the night: Tim Connolly's shorthanded goal at 3:29 of the second period. He takes the puck at his own right-wing faceoff circle, puts a move on an Ottawa player that leaves him sprawled out on the ice, then takes off for a 2-on-1. Just one man to beat, and he drags the puck past him before banking the puck off Emery and into the net.