I’ve never been more conflicted to write a post than I am right now. I can literally feel the two sides of my sports soul battling it out inside me.
My old sports self can’t help but immediately think of terrible/incredible coach Herm Edwards right now…
The other side of me wants to be optimistic. It’s shouting back, “Hey. Back in December when you saw a young team with a giant identity crisis, unsure of where their coach & GM were headed in an impending ownership-regime change, you would’ve paid hard cash if it meant they'd weather the storm, band together and show this level of grittiness and dedication to finish a year.”
Yes, but what about that loss? There was a terrifying resemblance to years gone by, where a scared-of-its-shadow Sabres squad would wilt in the face of superior talent.
The exception, once again, was a gutty performance from Captain America. Ryan Miller has nothing to apologize for. The post-lockout reality is that a goaltender will not carry you through the postseason. The days of riding a Hasek or Brodeur to a cup are over. Any smart NHL fan knows this. But if you think every team in the league wouldn’t line up in a HEARTBEAT to take Millsie into battle, you’re insane. Only one goal last night was a great shot. And if you think Ruff pulled him for any reason other than he didn’t want him being needlessly embarrassed for a game that wasn’t his fault, you’re not just insane, you’re Glenn-Beckian.
Tyler Myers and Nathan Gerbe proved they are promising cornerstones to build the future upon. Both showed a natural toughness and, at times, nastiness that is not just a plus in the playoffs, it’s a necessity. And certainly Gragnani, Ennis, and Weber showed glimpses of players who can be true differencemakers in the postseason.
But this loss stings and it will for a long time. Ultimately, the Phuckin’ Flyers forced their will upon the Sabres and the three players I expected to have the biggest impact – Briere, Richards and Giroux – were able to make the big plays that carried their team through, particularly Daniel.
I’m getting off on a tangent here, I realize, but I want to give the Flyers their due. Screw them and everyone who cheers for them, but they beat us fair and square. I don’t think many fans will be playing the “what if” game after this series. There wasn’t any more we could’ve done. Sure, a different bounce here or there in Game 6 puts us through to the next round. But Game 7 showed that there was no gas left in the Sabres’ collective tank and odds are slim that they would’ve had enough juice to get any deeper than they did.
And in the end, even my cynical side realizes that when I take a step back and look at the year in full, this season was a dramatically positive shift in the foundation of the franchise. This season was unlike any since July 1st, 2007. When you think about where this team was at the start of the season and where they are today, it’s nearly impossible to refute this. Terry Pegula has reinvigorated the team and the fanbase. Thomas Vanek and Paul Gaustad have emerged as rock-solid leaders. Tyler Myers is growing into the shit-talking, face-washing, goalie-protecting, savvy-defending beast we all hoped he’d be (oh, and he’s still just 21). Ryan Miller is still Captain America and now he’s got a legitimate backup who doesn’t spell an L for the squad the second his skates touch the ice. And Jhonas isn’t the only good news from Portland. While they showed their age at times, nearly every player called up down the stretch contributed significantly and played admirably this season.
So keep your chin up, cynics. The future is very bright.
(I just wish we didn’t have to wait for it to get here.)