Seven games left and here we are, back for another season's finish where our Buffalo Sabres have inexplicably put themselves back in the playoff hunt after having looked dead in the water not six weeks ago. We've been here before, all too recently, and while there's no shortage of frustration at the current state-of-things with this, at times, underachieving and, at times, overachieving hockey team, the fan in me knows this is better than some of the alternatives (see: Maple Leafs, Toronto; see also: Lightning, Tampa Bay).
Last year, the Sabres' late season inspired play was one of the things that got this blog going again, and certainly was a driving force in my own friendship with Scizz, Yachter and Aps, not to mention my interest in jumping along for the ride that is DGWU Sports. This season, the Sabres uninspired play through early February was one of the things that kept us away from our keyboards many nights, as we just couldn't stomach writing about a team that had promised so much and delivered so little. But now, here we are, faced with a team of many new faces playing the same script out and encouraging us all to dream big yet again. The lingering questions remain, though: Can this team pull off another miracle, despite having put themselves in an even bigger hole than they were in last year? And, more importantly, if they do, will that be the only miracle we see? Could there be another, perhaps one that pushes them past the first round for the first time since 2007? Will we actually start to see the promises of Pegula take shape, or will those promises be deferred another year as has been an annual Sabres custom?
For all the hope I have for this team, I certainly don't have any answers, and my recognition of these questions can just as easily be interpreted as "mailing it in" as genuine befuddlement at what this team is and could become. I may talk a lot about how great Ryan Miller is, for instance, but even I couldn't have predicted his stellar bounce back into form during the past 25 games or so. Even the most ardent of homer fans (pot calling kettle black, admittedly) would not have put money on the kind of progress this team has made up the standings over the past six weeks, so it makes absolutely no sense to start predicting where this all may lead. The statisticians say the team has a roughly 22% chance of making the final cut, a number that is encouraging only when compared to the absurdly low 5% chance the team had about four weeks ago. And while a lot of the fan base is encouraged by the team "controlling their own destiny" now that the Sabres are a mere 1 point behind the Capitals with a game against them next Tuesday, there's really no such thing as destiny control in the NHL. Sure, you can skate your tails off and control the amount of effort you put out onto the ice, but so much of the game is about luck and bounces and what kind of team effort you see on the other side - among thousands of other variables outside of a team's control. We're left then with a rather meaningless assurance that the team will make the playoffs if they win out, set against the reality that they will, in all likelihood, not win their last seven and that we all have a lot of hoping and praying to do as we depend on the rest of the pieces falling into place.
Translation: Things will happen that I can't predict, and until they happen I can't really say much about them beyond emotive ramblings that are equal parts hope and despair. Analysis.
Despairing game predictions aside, there is a lot to look for in this game, not the least of which is the possibility that this could very well be a preview of the Sabres' first round match-up if there's one to be had. The Sabres' poor results against New York this season came, in large part, during the utterly forgettable parts of the season, when Ryan Miller looked like a shell of his former self and the team couldn't string together back-to-back wins if their lives depended on it. Now that we're looking like a threat on most nights, with a goaltender showing reminiscent shades of his All-World talent, the one thing I'm looking for tonight is a glimmer of what this team might be able to do if they do manage to get in the playoffs. Are they going to be pushed around by a team that has dominated the conference all year, or are they going to fight tooth and nail for sixty minutes as they have been for the past several games? Again, they're likely to lose a couple of these last seven - we all need to accept this - and we can do little else than hope that neither of those losses is against Washington and that the Caps cooperate by losing a couple more of their own. Yet, assuming those pieces fall in our favor (knocking on wood SO HARD), I'm really looking for the team to show what that run might look like against the likely #1 seed tonight.
Bloviating, overstated opinions having been thoroughly exhausted, I can't forget to mention three quarters of the Deeg will be in attendance at MSG this evening (along with friend of the Deeg and star of CrapTastiCast #25, The Pink Elephant), which means that, no matter the result, fun will be had and drinks will be poured down our overserved gullets, leaving us perhaps less (or more) inclined to despair should the final score tonight end up as I fear it will. This magical run of the past month and a half began, some might say, with the Sabres shootout victory at Nassau Coliseum, with the Deeg in attendance, so we're looking to continue that good fortune even if good sense tells us otherwise. If memory serves me right, MSG can tend to be a black hole of cell phone reception, so our twitter feeds may not be as current as they might otherwise, but be sure to follow us @theycallmedubs, @Y_vo and @Sam_Hartman, not to mention @DGWUSports, for potentially nonsensical, poorly worded and/or genius musings on the game.
Let's Go Buffalo.