It was a banner night for the New York Rangers but a better night for the Buffalo Sabres.
"We were a little too anxious and tried to do too much too early," New York defenseman Brian Leetch said after a 2-1 loss to Buffalo that spoiled the Rangers' season opener Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
The giddiness was understandable considering the huge pregame celebration and raising of the Stanley Cup banner while welcoming back the franchise's first championship team since 1940.
"We've been here for years and years waiting for this night. The longer it goes the better I got all night," Ranger fan Joe Rovere said moments before a 30-minute light-and-sound show, complete with fireworks, retold last season.
To salute their often-disappointed faithful, season ticket-holders Burt Gwirtzman, Evan Dobkins, Hal Malklin, Christopher Armstrong and Frank Negri were immortalized into team lore by raising the Stanley Cup banner.
Retired players Rod Gilbert, Harry Howell, Eddie Giacomin and Ron Greschner also were invited on ice to help.
But, most of all, Mark Messier was there.
"This night was about finishing last year and I wouldn't miss it for anything in the world," said Messier, who was in contract negotiations only moments before punctuating the ceremony by taking the Stanley Cup in his hands for one more skate around the ice.
"There were a lot of magic moments last year and there was a little bit of magic in the building tonight," he said.
Not quite enough for a victory, however.
Dale Hawerchuk tied the score about a minute after Steve Larmer's goal in the first four minutes, then Donald Audette gave the Sabres their game-winner at 5:25 of the third period.