Beer? Check. Sabres t-shirt? Check. Vomit bag? Check.
That's right, boys and girls, as predicted here by yours truly not weeks ago, the Buffalo Sabres are headed to the playoffs for the fourth time in six years.
Ok, ok. So that wasn't a prediction that put me way out on a limb, nor was it one I was totally confident in watching our boys in blue & gold down the stretch. But here we are, just days away from yet another postseason showdown with the Philadelphia Flyers.
So now seems as good a time as any to reveal just how little I know about hockey, by attempting to predict where the rest of this wonderful rollercoaster ride is headed. And I'm here to tell you, in all seriousness guys and dolls... I think we have a serious shot at making some serious noise. Seriously.
More so in hockey than any other sport in recent years, seeding seems nearly irrelevant when it comes to results. No. 1's are regularly bounced in the early rounds and there's often a small to huge surprise participant in one of the two conference finals. And in all honesty, I think it's possible for the Buffalo Sabres to be one such surprise.
But there's a reason I'm using the word favorite and not simply putting the crown on their heads. They still have to get through us.
It goes without saying that our two teams have shared some pretty incredible playoff moments. I can still remember Dominik Hasek losing his mind after realizing the Flyers had gotten a goal thanks to a hole in the corner of the net. And who could forget "The Hit"? Brian Campbell will get a free drink in Buffalo for the rest of his life if he'll let some drunk fan talk about how high he leapt out of his seat when Campbell put R.J. Umberger to sleep. And there's every reason to believe that incredible things could happen again.
The Flyers have had a rocky finish to the season (9-9-7 in their last 25), while the Sabres are peaking at just the right time (8-1-1 in their last 10, all but one being must-win games). Not to mention, the Sabres came from behind to beat the Flyers to punch their ticket to the postseason.
It's with this in mind that I can say with confidence that the Sabres are in no way, shape or form intimidated by the Flyers. They know them inside and out. They know what to expect from them. Offense is rarely the Flyers' problem. Between Giroux, Richards, and Briere, their offense can gain momentum in a heartbeat. Defensively their gameplan will be simple. Their goons (which is basically everyone I didn't already name) are going to try and knock Vanek, Ennis, Gerbe and anyone else shorter than them (which is everyone) out.
You'd be hard-pressed to argue with this strategy. As I said, the Sabres have all of the momentum coming into the postseason and the Flyers will need to find some way to stifle Buffalo's shot opportunities to take pressure off of their biggest liability, netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. But in the end, I honestly believe the Sabres could take this series in six. At the end of the day, I'll always take the red-hot team over the team assuming they can switch off the auto-pilot when the game starts.
Now this, of course, would be a very tough matchup. Washington took the season series 1-3, capped off by the overtime loss suffered at the start of this month. As you probably recall, Ovechkin's shot went off a Sabres' stick and skate before winding up in the net. Heartbreaking, yes, but also telling. The #1 team in the league needed overtime and a lucky, garbage goal to get a win from us. And as I said before, the only thing the Capitals have proven so far in the postseason is that they know their way out. So if Buffalo could manage a first round upset of the defending Eastern Conference champions, their momentum, I believe, could carry them through Washington.
This is the point in my outlandish speculating where my head and my heart truly square off. Subjectively, if we're hot enough and good enough to make it to the second to last round, then there's every reason to believe we could get through to the Finals. Our most likely draw at that point would be our old pals, the Boston Bruins. It's a team we know very well and a team we're 3-0 against in 2011. And if our momentum could take us that far, perhaps it could get us over that next hurdle.
So where do I think the ride will end? Sadly, I believe it'll end in a game 7 in Boston. They had our number and then some last season. They've got the size, goaltending and scoring to give us all sorts of fits. Our guts and heart will push them right to the limit, but ultimately I think we'll fall just short, most likely in absolutely heartbreaking fashion.
That said, who wouldn't be thrilled by this? Five months ago, a trip to the playoffs seemed like a pipe dream. Now I'm predicting a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals and it really doesn't seem that crazy.
And if I'm wrong about any of this, that's fine. I'll happily step up and admit it. Because there's no questioning the fact that this team is on an upward climb. Just about every young player, whether it's Gerbe or Enroth, who has been plugged in has raised the level of their game as the season has gone on. Plus, the addition of Brad Boyes seems to be the smartest move this franchise has made in years. And if free agents see a team on the rise this summer, with a passionate fan base and an owner willing to shell out some cash, who knows who might join the fray?
In the end, I'm just glad to see them back in the playoffs. It should be an awesome thing to watch. Just someone make sure we've added the defibrillator to the checklist.