It’s 30 degrees outside and as I look out the window, I see that I’ll probably have to brush the snow off my car later. Awesome. And while it’s almost the middle of March, it could very well be the middle of April.
Why? Because it feels like the Sabres are already playing postseason games.
I’m sure the Pegula Effect has given the team an extra kick, but since this road trip started, the Sabres have had a real sense of desperation in their game. Against the top two teams in the conference (Philadelphia and Boston), they overcame two goal deficits and picked up two points in each. They’ve shown they can skate with anyone and while Boston and Philadelphia are slumping right now, the Sabres appear to finally have hit their stride.
During that Boston game, down 3-2 early in the third period against a very good defensive team, it seemed like the only way they were going to break through was by scoring on that 5-on-3 opportunity. And they stepped up and capitalized.
What we’re watching now is a confident team that, after 60-plus games, is fun to watch. Unlike the first part of the season, what’s happening on the ice is more exciting than what’s going on in the front office (and, the stuff going on behind-the-scenes is really fun to talk about, too).
And unlike last season, the Sabres are in a spot where they could miss the playoffs if they don’t earn two points every night. They had built up such a cushion in October 2009 that in April, they pretty much coasted into the postseason.
I specifically remember the April 8 game in Boston where the Sabres put Patrick Lalime in and subsequently lost 3-1. The Bruins took it to the Sabres all night. Buffalo looked lackadaisical, like a team that wanted to finish their final three games healthy and reset for Round One. They underachieved despite overachieving, if that makes any sense.
This year’s team has been fighting every night for the last two weeks. They’ve actually been playing very good hockey since that embarrassing loss in Calgary. But lately, they’ve looked hungrier, the way they’re going to have to look in a playoff series.
No one outside of the team really expected the Sabres to go 4-2-1 during the last road trip. Expecting them to maintain this pace is almost as crazy. There’s a good chance that the seventh and eighth seeds won’t be clinched until the final weekend of the season so a letdown at some point over the next 14 games wouldn’t be surprising. Fatigue hasn’t been a factor yet, but it can be.
Good teams, especially teams with their eye on the Stanley Cup, win at home and the Sabres have struggled inside HSBC Arena. They can start to turn the tide in that regard tonight as they host Ottawa in the first game of a four-game homestand. Welcome home.