As I walked to my car after work on Thursday, rain pelting my face, I couldn’t help but smile.
The skies were clear 24 hours before that, and my mood was much different. It was chilly and sunny on Wednesday, a mixed bag of atmospheric activity that offers little suggestion for your demeanor. Those are the days to forget.
Thursday, on the other hand, was perfect. It was cold and bitter and far from beautiful, such as the snow that could have fallen if it were a touch cooler. It was ugly shades of grey and damp clothing, an inescapable seasonal sludge.
Bitter cold is decisive. There’s nothing up for interpretation with wind chill and sleet. Much like the stifling heat of summer, winter’s bitter blasts are absolute.
I have no idea what 52 degrees Fahrenheit feels like because, until just now, I’ve never considered it. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter. I don’t enjoy spring. It’s filler until the weather gets better. The fall, similarly, is full of meandering days delaying the inevitable.
This is not a post about the gradual rotation around the celestial body necessary for life on this planet. What I’m trying to say is that days like Thursday are perfect because they are awful. The snowy and slushy days make a summer heat that much more meaningful to me. The good days need an inverse to show what’s missing when the warmth is gone.
In a similar vein, Thursday’s result in Boston brings a similar response. By all accounts, the Buffalo Sabres are meandering. Good hockey does not come easy to them. There have been struggles and losing streaks and right now they are trapped in their own mediocrity.
It is too late to change this, and as we watch them scrape and claw their way towards the final playoff spot many have openly wondered what making the playoffs really means. Is it worth it? Will they just lose in the first round one more time, delaying the true rebuild that the team really needs?
I have no idea. I’m not the one that needs a clear vision for this hockey team. That’s the fun part about being on this side, I suppose. It is also the part that brings the most frustration.
What I do see is that they have a long way to go before they’ll look like anything we should truly get excited about. Thursday’s opponent, Boston, has plenty to like on the ice. They’ve got grit and talent and strong goaltending and personality and all those things that sports fans fall in love with. They’ve been successful, proven it worked and fans are delirious in their appreciation for the effort.
The final 20 minutes of the third period on Thursday played out like a happy dream for Bruins fans. Boston buzzed the entire frame, controlling play and stirring the TD Garden into a frenzy with every close call and grazed post. The tempo was theirs and the Sabres, though still fighting it out, could do little to stop what was coming.
Every play meant something. Trying to leave his own zone, Thomas Vanek was eliminated by a perfect check from Boston’s Johnny Boychuk. Boychuk — no stranger to incidents with Vanek — hadn’t scored in 40 games (Dec. 3 vs. Toronto). Somehow, his game-winner felt inevitable.
A few minutes after Boychuk broke the tie, it was over. Boston got a third and the war was won. It was quick, decisive and entirely impressive. Most of all, it was a display the Sabres simply cannot muster. That is how good teams win good hockey games. What separates the middling from the bold and inspires the type of emotions worth investing in a team for the long haul. Wins in Buffalo have been hard-fought and well-earned, but none this year have looked — or felt — that succinct.
You can’t explain these emotions properly. Maybe that’s why we gnash our teeth and spew nonsense when the fervor is missing. How do you describe something that, for reasons unknown, is not there? You can know, but can you explain how you know why?
Boychuk’s Bruins will get the chance to defend their title this spring, perhaps successfully. Vanek, meanwhile, has once again been knocked off the ice he was already struggling on. Sometimes hot and mostly cold; another example of oscillation on a unit unable to claim a season. Winter seems too unbearable for this team, and they’ve actively avoided that bitter cold for over a decade now.
What we know is that they’re far from the top, too. Watching the Bruins relish their day in the sun is a stark reminder of how far this Sabres team still has to go. Losing on Thursday night puts a dent in Buffalo’s playoff hopes, but it also serves as a prototype for the future. Years ago, if only for a little while, the Sabres had those blueprints. It felt like they did, at least.
As I write this, the weather continues to change. Snow comes and goes, punctuated by the most unlikely rays of sunshine before another gust of wind blows through. It’s the perfect day to write about what’s missing, and to consider what may be on the horizon.