When Buffalo and Montreal played back in September, there was no question where these two teams were headed. Montreal was going straight to the top, with a busy agenda that included an All Star Game, their centennial season, and running the table atop the Eastern Conference on their way to a Stanley Cup championship.
The path meant for the Sabres was a much bigger question mark. It was a team “growing up”, hoping to find their balance and make the playoffs. There was Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller, then a bunch of question marks with big contracts and little expectations.
And here we are now. Montreal and Buffalo are two of the four teams battling for two playoff spots. Montreal has had their perfect season marred by scandals and struggles and fired coaches, and Buffalo has… drifted to and fro for 70 games until they realized on Wednesday that their season could end in two weeks.
When you really think about all that, it’s no wonder last night’s game felt so surreal. There’s this team fighting back and giving up leads and taking stupid penalties wearing Sabres jerseys, and we’re trying to figure out if it all matters or not. There we were watching a shootout we knew may or may not be meaningless, wondering how to feel when Miller keeps stopping shots and Toni Lydman hits the ice.
Maybe it’s me, but I still have no idea what to think about this team anymore; and I’m not sure where to start with this game. I’ve watched it twice and have debated it for hours, to the point where the sun is coming up and I’m staring at the numbers like runes on a foreign wall.
What I do know is that I’m really liking the heart this team suddenly has. I’m not sure what it means if they ultimately don’t make the playoffs, but I’d love to see this sort of play carry over like we saw from Atlas last season. I’ll talk more about Kaleta later, but I love that Paul Gaustad and Craig Rivet wouldn’t let anyone forget about it. Once again the usual suspects come through for this team, and honestly it’s just nice to see it at this time of year. Finally.
It was also good to see that Ryan Miller is okay. I think this picture tells the story with Miller:
He said he was exhausted after the game and I don’t blame him, but it was good to see he can handle the workload so soon after the injury, as well as play relatively well in the process. There are goaltenders that can’t come back right away and play well after injuries, but Miller was up to the task this weekend. That’s a good sign in both the long and short term.
So is the Sabres’ season over because they gave up the overtime point? Well, maybe. For me it doesn’t really matter. What we came away with tonight is that the Sabres are still playing meaningful hockey. Still. Somehow, even after all the awful losses and inexcusable failures, we are watching hockey games with some semblance of meaning.
It’s the hockey equivalent of stoppage time. In reality the game is over, but the clock is still ticking. The numbers say the season is still dead, but the reaction on the bench clearly says otherwise.
Perhaps by Wednesday we can figure all this out. For now, keep squinting.