On The Brink

By Chris

Do you remember the last time the Sabres trailed in a playoff series?

I do. It was 2007 and the Roost was only a few days old.

When they were down 2-0 to the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Finals, here are some things we said about that team:

There’re probably at least a dozen more comebacks that have all since blurred together. If anyone can pull this thing off, it’s this team. And if not? Well then, it’s been fun, but we’ll have to deal with the fact that the ride’s over.

And then there’s the obvious reason as to why Buffalo is down in this series: the power play has been horrendous. Atrocious. Downright terrible. It’s been bad all year, dating back to the team’s first game of the season. The Sabres went 0-9 with the man-advantage against Carolina in the season opener. So it’s not like this is a new problem.

The Sabres have done things the hard way for two years now. The only thing to stop believing is that they’d take the easy route now.

The important question is this: can this Sabres team do what the Senators couldn’t last year? The Senators couldn’t overcome two gut-wrenching overtime losses in last year’s series. This year, the Sens claim to be a more mentally and physically tough group. Sabres fans will tell you this team has what it takes to overcome anything in their way, but they’ve yet to prove capable of getting past a 2-0 series deficit.

Then again, they haven’t had the chance.

Is a 2-0 deficit what we expected heading up to Canada’s capital? No way. Is this series over? Absolutely not.

Any of that sound familiar?

And then the worst happened. The Sabres lost again and went down 3-0. Here’s another painful trip down memory lane:

It’s a depressing time in Western New York right now and we’re standing at a crossroads. We can still believe. Or we can jump off the bandwagon. Each seems like the trendy thing to do. I’m in a place somewhere in-between. I want the Sabres to pull a 2004 Red Sox and make history because I want to watch this team succeed. Then again, they haven’t played well enough this playoff to deserve to make that history and I hope they get blown out 8-0 on Wednesday night. Try to swallow that going into an off season where all three guys wearing letters on their chests could be gone come September. Game Three in Ottawa was the apex of my frustration with this Sabres team.

They showed no heart. No passion. It felt I was watching the team play just some regular season game on the road. My stomach was in knots and I was doing everything in my power to not throw my full glass of Pepsi across the restaurant I was at. When Briere failed to score early in the first, on a play he waited too long on, we knew we were in for a long night. “That’s probably the way the rest of the game will go,” my buddy Jay said. How right he was.

It’s an all-time let down. If they lose on Wednesday night, we’re not going to remember this team ten years from now. They’re just going to be another Buffalo team that let us all down. 1975. 1999. 2006. Those are the teams we’ll remember and endear forever. The 2007 Buffalo Sabres put the pressure of winning a Stanley Cup on themselves as soon as they got back from Carolina last year. “One team. One goal.”

Ryan Miller is the only Sabre worth a damn right now. He didn’t quit. He played his heart out last night and he’s the reason why it was only a one goal game. No one else showed up. Briere played maybe a total of two good minutes all game, most of it coming with only seconds left. His co-captain, the great Chris Drury, wasn’t much better, going 7-11 on faceoffs. It just isn’t enough. This team thought it knew what it took to win a Conference Final after last season’s disappointment. Now we’re all not so sure, and it sounds like the players themselves are among the doubters.

If you are one of the few Believers, however, I’ll give you two things to hang your rally cap on:
1. The Sabres have played like absolute crap the last three games and have lost two of them because of one bad bounce. One good bounce the other way, and it’s a completely different series.
2. Ryan Miller. ‘Nuff said.

As I sat in my basement killing time before the series finale, trying to avoid thoughts of the inevitable, I tried to remember what I hadn’t done. What superstition did I mess up? Did I do everything right? It was then that I had a striking revelation.

“There is nothing you can do, Ryan.” I said to myself. “The only thing you can do is watch and hope.”

So will the Sabres do the impossible? None of us can answer that question. All we can do is watch. My hope is that somewhere on that roster is a Dave Roberts. Maybe it’s Chris Drury. Maybe it’s Nathan Paetsch. Maybe it’s The Goose. Until it happens, all we can do is hope.

Drury then gave us one of the most memorable quotes of the last five years:

“We could curl up and cry about it and go home. Or we could fight like dogs. There’s no other way to think about it. We can’t save anything for Thursday or Friday or Saturday.”

And the Sabres won the next game. They were down 3-1 and coming home for a nationally televised Saturday afternoon game. The plaza was rocking and although there was a dark cloud looming, there was still a feeling of hope in and around HSBC Arena. I was there and so was Ryan.

And then…they lost. A shot by Daniel Alfredsson deflected off Brian Campbell’s stick and past Miller. Just like that, it was all over. We filed out of the arena as the Senators skated around with the Prince of Wales Trophy.

My first thoughts the next day:

If you ever have a chance to go to a playoff game in which your team is facing elimination, please take my advice: Don’t. It is one of the most stressful things I think you can do to yourself short of taking your road test three times in a row. Your time literally lives and dies with every shot, every save. And if that game goes to overtime? Forget it. You’ve already taken six years off of your life by just sitting there

So where will I be tomorrow night? In the arena watching my favorite team try and stave off elimination if only for one more night.

It’s unlikely with the way the Sabres have played that they will win this series. They’ve yet to put together a complete game and their special teams haven’t been so special — particularly the powerplay.

So why punish and torture myself? Why walk into the arena tomorrow night knowing full well that I could walk out feeling just as miserable and disappointed as I did on that day in May 2007?

Because the team still has a chance.

Can they win tomorrow night at home? Yes.

Can they go back and beat the Bruins on the road with an extra day of rest? Yes.

Can they come back and win another home game? Yes.

Intangibles aside (for now), it’s totally possible for the Sabres to come back and win this series.

Do they deserve to? Probably not. They’ve played some bad hockey and their best players haven’t been their best players.

Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville need to wake up and realize that they are now leaders on this hockey team. It’s their duty to show everyone else the way. So far, they’ve failed miserably. And Derek Roy hasn’t been much better since Thomas Vanek went down.

The best thing Craig Rivet has really done is take penalties to put himself in the box and off the ice. That’s leading by example.

Ryan Miller has been spectacular at times (look at the saves in the overtime periods last night again if you need a reminder) but has been mediocre in some spots as well. Game Two is the worst you’ll see him play in a big moment.

The Sabres’ backs are against the wall. Every game is now a Game Seven for them. There might not be a tomorrow.

Fight like dogs. Win one and we’ll worry about Monday later.

5 Comments

  1. Mike

    Our power play has stunk ever since McCutcheon took over dealing with it. Why has he not been fired?

  2. ScottyMCSSProSportsDaily

    Hey, there’s a bright side to this. Our New Core looks great.

    Myers obviously is a titan, or a kracken.

    Ennis and Kennedy can score – in the playoffs.

    Luke Adam, Brayden McNabb, and that Foligno kid are going to bring even more size, guts, passion, and scoring.

    I can’t wait. I am tired of watching this team take 20 minutes off each night. Derek Roy, I am thrilled that we are a day closer to parting ways with your dives, your fluff hockey, and your rinky-dinnk saucer passes.

    Bring on the kids!

  3. brian s.

    I remember going to Game 6 vs. Carolina and how much of a nervous energy was in the building that day. Briere’s OT goal was met more with a sigh of relief than anything else. I feel that tomorrow’s game will have much of the same energy as that one. I’m hoping that the crowd doesn’t turn on the team at the first sign of adversity like they were towards the end of the regular season. I also continue to hope that Miller finally puts the team on his back and shuts the Bruins out. One can dream, right?

  4. Ogre39666

    My thoughts.
    Negatives: Connolly looked downright feeble trying to handle the puck. Could he still be hurting? Possibly, but a bum foot is a long way from the hands, and more importantly, from the heart.
    Lydman was the cause of several near heart attacks.
    Roy is 5’9″. He played even smaller.
    Did Pominville even skate last night?

    Positives: Miller brought his Vancouver game.
    Montador looked solid.
    Myer’s was smooth as always.
    Ennis looks like a dynamic offensive force in the making. Hands, wheels, vision, creativity, and most importantly, he’s willing to get knocked on his ass to make stuff happen. (Roy could take notes… from a rookie. Sad.)

  5. NoUseForANickname

    Dear Jason Pominville,

    “Adversity doesn’t build character, it shows it”
    – Barry Melrose, April 21st Melrose Line.

    I’d hoped after getting that goal you were going to start coming out of your shell. I kind of get the feeling that you’re hurt or something, but J, you can do this. If you don’t want it on for you own reasons, let’s just say that the odds are high you’ll be going to get traded to Calgary next year, which you know is a shithole. That should help motivate you. You simply have to be better.

    Yours in solidarity,
    T

    They can come back from 3-1 if they want to. This is Boston ffs.