The Sabres were riding on the coattails of a tremendous run that vaulted them from last place to the playoff race. A regulation win last night over the Jets would have slid the Sabres into a tie with Winnipeg for the 8th and final playoff spot. Buffalo had turned in excellent performances recently against NHL heavyweights such as the Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, and New York Rangers, but was crushed by the weight of the Jets speed and tenacity, as well as the voraciousness of the Winnipeg fan-base.
The fans had the MTS Centre rockin’, which, luckily for me, was drowning out the senseless droning of NBC Analyst Pierre Maguire. The rest of the NBC Sports team was glowingly gushing over the Winnipeg Jets “superstars” for most of the game (Blake Wheeler, REALLY?), while I tried my best to recall if I saw any Jets players participating in this years All-Star Game. Last nights game reminded me: Oh, how much do I miss the game calling of Rick Jeanneret!
Ryan Miller played stellar, again. Unfortunately, the Sabres were unable to keep pace with the Jets, and were unable to capitalize on their power play opportunities. Errant passing ruled the night for Buffalo.
In a moment that epitomized the exceptionally errant evening and Sabres exhaustion, veteran rock on defense Robyn Regehr was burned by none other than former Sabres draft pick, and current Jets “superstar” Chris Thorburn. “He usually uses his fists for punching, this time he uses them to punch the puck into the net.” Thank you for the quotable Mr. NBC Sports Broadcaster whose name I do not know. The children in the ‘Milk Times Three’ commercial were probably amused.
The recent rise and return to contention by the Sabres could be attributed to having a lineup that is finally healthy, save for Jochen Hecht and Cody McCormick. Coincidentally, the Sabres winning streak has paralelled a loss of contributions by the Sabres two best forwards, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek. Pominville has no points in his last six games, while Vanek only has one point during the same span. Vanek only has 3 goals in his last 23 games.
For the first time in a long time, coach Lindy Ruff has not been juggling his lines around. I hate to say this, but last night in the 3rd period may have been a good time to tinker a bit, to see if he could get any spark from Vanek and Pominville by putting someone else (Cody Hodgson or Ville Leino) with them. Couldn’t have hurt, as the Sabres were already down 3-1, and it was fairly clear that they were well on the way to a loss. Rip Simonick was probably packing the bags halfway through the 3rd period.
The Sabres dropped to 4 points away from that final coveted playoff spot, with 18 games remaining in the season. They return to action tomorrow night (Wednesday), in a home game against the lowly Carolina Hurricanes.
For the moment, it is hard to be mad at these Sabres for the loss to
Atlanta Winnipeg. The recent run has revitalized and reinvigorated our hopes, and renewed our passion for the team. They have been putting on a mighty good show. If only we could get Vanek and Pominville on board, combined with the continued steady play of Ryan Miller, we could be on our way to quite a fun ride.