Find your Sharpies sports fans, and get ready to mark your calendars.
The Buffalo Sabres are about to embark upon one of their longest road trips of the season, a 7 game stint that pegs them all over the map until a return home trip from Toronto on March 12. And it will decide the season.
The Sabres currently sit in 9th place with 65 points, behind the Hurricanes’ 67 and the Rangers’ 70, with 2 games in hand over the Dreaded Canes and 3 games over the Hated New York Hockey Rangers.
It seems like the Buffalo Sabres have had games in hand over Carolina the New York since, well, as far back as I can remember. The Sabres have had 2 to 3 games in hand, in fact, for the duration of their stretch run to the playoffs – it’s been a very comfortable position to be in.
So when does Buffalo finally make these games up?
Tonight’s matchups won’t change anything. Buffalo faces New York for a critical 4 point game, while Carolina plays Florida.
On Wednesday, all three teams enjoy a day off to review the standings in the aftermath of those games.
Thursday boasts another 4 pointer amid this trio, this time plotting Buffalo against Carolina. Meanwhile, New York faces off against Minnesota. Buffalo’s games in hand will remain the same.
Let’s stop there, because it’s a long march through the calendar before these games in hand finally even out.
Now is the time to use that Sharpie: Tuesday, March 15th, is the Day of Reckoning. By then the Sabres will have played 9 games, the Canes 7, and the Rangers 7. Buffalo will still have 1 game in hand over the Rangers, but for all intents and purposes, the games in hand ratio will finally have reached even ground.
The cushion of games in hand suddenly doesn’t feel so comfortable: Buffalo will cash in its games in hand on the road. Talk about a huge trip – 12 days and heckuva lot of hockey away. On the Day of Reckoning, when all games played are equal, Buffalo faces off against none other than Carolina again, but it might not matter. By then, the Sabres will have played 9 of their remaining 21 games, roughly half of their short remaining schedule.
Of course, the statistic of games in hand is not a crystal ball. It does not take into effect all the mistakes, hot goaltenders, injuries, or even surges of teams beneath Buffalo in the current standings. It does make one thing clear, however: 18 points are up for grabs for the Sabres by the time March 15th rolls around, and there isn’t much hockey to be played afterwards. Certainly not enough to change much in the standings anymore.
If the Sabres haven’t made up their ground and gotten into the top 8 by the 15th, the post season surge will be in severely dire straits. If Buffalo actually loses ground to Carolina and New York by that point, well, then it just ain’t gonna’ happen, folks.
Buffalo’s 2010-11 season will be decided on the road. They will use their games in hand, while going up against the two teams that are ahead of them in the top 8. Here’s to reckoning that when the boys in Blue and Gold come back to town from Toronto, that they come back as winners.