Buffalo74 touched on the importance of this road trip before.
By the end of this sojourn, the Sabres will have played 7 straight road games – by the time they do return home, at last, to face off against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 15th, all of those precious games in hand will be used up: The Day of Reckoning.
In that previous post, that game on the 15th may have been a must-win; then again, after 14 points of hockey are played, that game just as easily might be moot. Right now, it’s looking like it’s leaning more towards being another season-defining game, one to cap off a season-defining road swing.
Indeed – the Sabres haven’t been playing like a team under pressure. Lindy Ruff certainly deserves some credit for this, and maybe the new culture that Terrence Pegula introduced when he took over the team deserves a nod as well – the team still remains undefeated in regulation with Pegula up in his box overseeing his men.
The Sabres are now four games through this roadie, and have posted a respectable record of 3-0-1. Sure, they lost to Carolina in OT, but they beat the Rangers and then Minnesota – two teams desperately trying to keep their own playoff hopes alive. And they handled Philadelphia, who just so happens to be 1st overall in the East.
Well done, boys. But there is still much work ahead.
Yesterday’s victory over Minnesota vaulted Buffalo ahead of Carolina into 8th place – the first time this entire season that the Sabres entered the top 8, and playoff contention. The timing could not be better, with just 17 games left.
Until the 15th – that Day of Reckoning, Buffalo will continue to cash in on their games in hand. They currently hold 1 game in hand over Carolina, and 3 games in hand over the Rangers for 7th place. The Rangers are only 2 points ahead of the Sabres.
Not to get ahead of ourselves here, but the Sabres also hold a game in hand over Montreal, and are currently just 5 points back of those Habs. Is 17 games enough to make up 5 points? Not likely, but there is no reason to not root for it.
Perhaps the best finish would be a 7th place finish, which would give the Blue and Gold a chance at poetic justice – hockey revenge – over the current holders of 2nd place in the East: the Boston Bruins.
Whomever the Sabres face, if they make the playoffs, will be a tough opponent – but one can imagine the gusto in the guts of the Sabres if they find themselves matched up against the Bruins on the first twigs of the playoff tree. (Thomas Vanek in particular, who was egregiously injured in Game Two of that series last year.)
Yes, there is a lot of hockey left to be played before the final whistle closes out that last regular season game of 2011.
But, the Sabres are one of the hottest teams in the East right now, and are giving fans plenty of games and scenarios to root for – things considered absolutely unthinkable just a month or two ago.
The Flyers look mortal. The Pens are mortally wounded. Washington is incredibly streaky, with suspect goaltending. Montreal and Boston are certainly beatable. Perhaps Tampa has the best mix of experience and youth – but again – they have suspect goaltending. It only takes one blown shot by a goaltender to put a playoff series in peril.
Say what you want about sub-par net-minders carrying teams through the playoffs recently, but then ask Michael Leighton and Patrick Kane what happens when a mediocre goalie lets just one bad shot through. Ask Simeon Varlamov of his inexperience and how it lead to a Game Seven meltdown against Pittsburgh in 2009.
Over the course of their amazing stretch run from ten points out of playoff contention, Ryan Miller and his Sabres have proved to fans, that anything – everything – is possible.
And that includes Lord Stanley.