After Max put in the empty netter and started a ruckus, Dave sent me a text:
“This was only 40 games too late.”
Even if this is just a death rattle, it’s a tough one to take. Wednesday night the Sabres gave us everything we’ve asked for over the last few weeks: a response to adversity, secondary scoring, doing the little things right, and most importantly, standing up for each other. In the end it may only be Florida choking away their playoff chances, but it does signal a few things for the Sabres.
First of all, it shows that they could have been doing this all along. How many times have we seen this team fold after a soft goal or a bad penalty? How many games went into the third close only to have the cover blown off in the last frame? Down the stretch the Sabres became a team riddled with bad habits, and that’s what took them out of the playoff race.
Tonight was a heck of an interesting time to kick those habits if you ask me. If anything, this game proves that the team doesn’t need to be blown up to succeed. I simply don’t believe the “this team needs more talent” argument. The talent is there, and until tonight the hard work that needs to go with it wasn’t.
Where was Jason Pominville tonight? He was the “spark” according to the AP, and I have a hard time disagreeing with that. Suddenly this is a player that goes to the net and gets rewarded. This is a player with all the talent of a star and the apparent reluctance to get his hands dirty, but he was there tonight. This wasn’t a three-point night like he would have last year (“Secondary Jason” was the phrase I believe…) , this was earned.
The same can be said for Tim Connolly, who has taken his fair share of criticism down the stretch. The players that are supposed to step up for this team did, and it’s sad that to most of us this is a surprise. I’ll say it again: the talent showed up because the hard work was there to back it up.
For as good a shot as Clarke MacArthur put on net, he had to bury his head and skate to get open for that pass. The same goes for the guys willing to go to the net and tip those shots, or even just to grind it out and keep momentum going. The most important shift of the night was the one that drew the Cullimore cross-check. Guess who made that happen?
Gaustad, Moore, and Kalata get a shift and make the most of it, creating a few scoring chances and keeping Florida on their toes. Kaleta has a chance to score point blank, but the net is knocked off by Paul Gaustad’s face before he gets a shot off. Moore holds his ground in front of the net and gets a matching roughing penalty with Horton, but the power play is still on.
Twenty five seconds later the Sabres have the lead. Simply put, that’s how you win hockey games. It got a bit iffy at the end, but when it really mattered and the clock was winding down, someone made a play at center ice and closed the deal. Maxim Afinogenov, yes Maxim freaking Afinogenov, did something this team has been unable to do so many times: win a battle and put the game away with an empty net goal. For a guy we left for dead and clearly won’t have next season, you have to love the effort.
Oh, and when he takes a shot from Horton the team responds. What a novel concept. I think that cheer from the crowd was more for the fact that this team didn’t back down than anything else, and I would have done the same if I were there. Finally, after cheap shots and run goaltenders, this team decides to stand up for itself. Of course it was Rivet, did you expect anyone else?
It is unfortunate that the die is already cast with this team, because that game was the sort of thing we were dying to see weeks ago. This will most likely go down as a flash in the pan, an illusion perhaps; of a better team with a higher ceiling. If you ask me, it only justifies the anger expressed at this team’s failures. The ability has always been there, but for one reason or another the desire wasn’t.
The only thing it shows is that this could have happened weeks ago.