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The Buffalo Sabres, along with the Vancouver Canucks, joined the NHL in the 1970-71 season.
The Sabres got off to a good start by winning the NHL draft lottery in their debut season, and selected future Hockey Hall of Fame center Gilbert Perreault first overall. Perreault was available to the Sabres, as this was the first year that the Montreal Canadiens did not have a priority right to draft Quebecois junior players.
Perreault scored 38 goals in his rookie season of 1970-71, at the time a record for most goals scored by a rookie in the NHL, and was awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy as Rookie of the Year.
The Sabres made the playoffs for the first time in 1972-73, in just their third season in the league, losing in the quarterfinals to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens.
The Buffalo Sabres were led offensively through much of the 70s with the famed French Connection line, consisting of Rick Martin, Rene Robert and Gilbert Perreault along with another 50 goal scorer in Danny Gare.
Game 3 of the 1974/75 Stanley Cup finals would go down in hockey lore as The Fog Game due to an unusual May heat wave in Buffalo which forced parts of the match between Buffalo and Philadelphia to be played in heavy fog, as the arena lacked air conditioning.
After many dissapointing seasons through the 80s and early 90s the Sabres rebounded in 96-97, winning the Northeast Division (their first division title in sixteen years), with coach Ted Nolan winning the Jack Adams Award as the NHLs top coach. Dominik Hasek took home both the Hart and Vezina Trophies (the first goaltender to do so since Montreals Jacques Plante in 1962) and Michael Peca taking home the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL.
Unfortunately after a successful regular season the wheels fell off in the 1997 playoffs when the already rocky relationship between Sabres all-star goalie Dominek Hasek and coach of the year Ted Nolan came to a boil. In game 3 of their first round series against the Senators Hasek stormed off the ice claiming he had injured his knee. Though backup goalie Steve Shields managed to bring the Sabres back from a 3 game deficit and win the series when the league learned that Hasek was faking the injury he was suspended for 3 games (for attacking a sports reporter after a sabres loss). After the Sabres went on to lose the next round to the Flyers GM John Muckler was fired, then the following season the new Buffalo management team chose to side with goaltender Hasek and not renew Nolans contract.
In 1999 the Buffalo Sabres made it back to the Stanley Cups finals to face the the Dallas Stars, only to lose in game 6 on a controversial goal scored by Brett Hull in triple overtime. The rules of the day clearly stated that a goal cannot be scored if an opponents skate entered the crease before the puck, which Hulls clearly did .. but the officials declared that Hulls two shots in the goal mouth constituted a single possession of the puck and since the puck deflected off Hasek, the goal was legal.
In the summer of 2002, Buffalo Sabres owner John Rigas and his sons were arrested for bank, wire, and securities fraud for embezzling more than $2 billion (Rigas eventually was convicted and presently is appealing a sentence of 15 years in prison). The league took control of the team, and maintained control until suitable new owners were found in 1993. The new ownership was a consortium led by Rochester, New York billionaire, former New York gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano and former Sabres president Larry Quinn.
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