It has to be very stressful this time of the for hockey players on teams in playoff spots six through nine – not knowing exactly what the next two weeks are going to hold. If fans are all over the internet watching scoreboards, news, and opinions, then players have to be even tenser about it.
For the Eastern Conference, the NHL has given them a night off – a full respite from any games that have any playoffs implications foor the Eastern Conference. No, that doesn’t mean that New York is facing off against the Panthers for the battle of the lottery draft, it is a complete break from hockey for the Eastern Conference.
And for some teams, it is a much needed break. One team in particular that has to be very careful with these breaks is the Buffalo Sabres. While it hasn’t been lights out hockey for the Sabres since Terry Pegula took over the team and started reshaping the culture of Buffalo hockey, it has been damn close. The Buffalo Sabres have clawed their way from the middle of the nobodies to the bottom of the somebodies, and are threatening to charge the middle of the pack. With nine teams left in play (Carolina is teetering on the edge of laughable attempt at making the playoffs) the Buffalo Sabres future is not cemented in post season glory, but their odds are pretty good.
Left standing the way are the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, The Washington Capitals, the Philadelphia Flyers, The Tampa Bay Lightning, the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Columbus Blue Jackets. If you are going to be successful in the playoffs, you have to be able to beat the teams that are going to be in the dance with you. With the exception of the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jackets who are playing the role of spoiler at this point in the season.
With the Sabres next game against the Maple Leafs, the Buffalo Sabres have to remember that we control the play; that we have their number – that despite the fact that they are in the same division as us, they do not belong. We need to control the play to remind the Toronto Maple Leafs of their rightful place in the Northeast Division – and this year it is right above the Ottawa Senators.
The task at hand is not a difficult one. Keep the Carolina Hurricanes at bay long enough that they cannot make the playoffs. Its that simple. The Buffalo Sabres are not going to win the Stanley Cup this year. The highest seed to ever do it was the fifth place New Jersey Devils during the shortened lockout season. What the Buffalo Sabres can do is make it difficult for higher seeded teams who have a better chance at playing for the Stanley Cup. Think of it this way. One of the last teams I want to see lift the Stanley Cup in June is the Philadelphia Flyers – if the Buffalo Sabres can beat them, or at least weaken them for someone else to beat, then I will be a very happy Sabres fan. I am not saying that I have no faith in the Buffalo Sabres, I just think they are far from being a contender this year. Keeping the ‘Canes at bay is a simple task, and at the same time they can go from eight place to as high as sixth, or possibly even fifth overall. The higher we climb, the more likely it is we draw an opponent that will give us an easier time in the playoffs.
As much parity as there is in the league, there is not that big of a difference between the the middle teams in the playoffs. It’s all about who turns on the switch at the right time. Ladies and Gentleman, your Buffalo Sabres are playing that style of hockey right now. Our downfall will not be our inability to play hockey in May. Our downfall will be a more complete team. You don’t need a perfect team to win the Stanley Cup – you just need the right team.