The Buffalo Sabres. A team that genuinely likes to play with the emotions of its fans. At least, that’s what it feels like.
With the Sabres now in the heat of a playoff race, games like last night can be gut-wrenching. Mind-melting. Heart-twisting. A Stress-induced stomach spinning session. For the third game in a row, a former Sabre scored against Buffalo. First it was Zack Kassian, then it was Chris Thorburn, last night it was Jaroslav Spacek.
Yes, good ol’ Jaro Spacek, a man that only had one goal in the past 2 seasons. His goal early in the 1st period gave the Carolina Hurricanes a 1-0 lead that stood until the second period. The Sabres seemed somewhat slow out of the gate in the initial period, in front of their home crowd no less, and it kick-started the pessimist in me. Were they REALLY going to lose to the lowly ‘Canes, just as they did on opening night at First Niagara Center back in October? A team that was only 8-14-8 on the road entering the game? This was the question that I was left to ponder during the 1st intermission.
In the first 1:02 of the 2nd period, Tyler Myers and Thomas Vanek had my answer, both netting goals and propelling the Sabres to a very quick 2-1 lead. It felt like Vanek hadn’t scored since the calendar changed to 2012, and it was nice to see that smile back on his face. He went right to the net on the powerplay, parked there, and reclaimed his office. Hopefully, this means Vanek has awoken from his slumber for the final 15 games of the Sabres playoff push.
Buffalo continued to push the pace throughout the 2nd period, with elevated play. It started to appear that Carolina was tired from the game against Washington the night prior, while the Sabres were invigorated and skating hard. The optimist in me was in control, and gave my pessimist side a Rob Ray punch in the teeth. Then, somehow, Chad LaRose tied the game with 5 minutes left in the period. Somehow, my television withstood the ensuing long-winded, angry rant that I gave it. The pessimist in me immediately reminded me about what happened to the Sabres when they faced the Hurricanes in the 2006 playoffs. Visions of Jay McKee’s leg danced in my head.
These were the feelings that remained for the rest of regulation, as nobody scored in the 3rd period. The chances were there for the Sabres, but they just couldn’t finish. Buffalo had a sporadic final minute of the period, as ended regulation on the powerplay. They began overtime with a 4 on 3 advantage.
Then, 56 seconds into overtime, the second Sabre that we needed to awaken from his slumber and break his slump, captain Jason Pominville, buried a wicked slap shot past ‘Canes goaltender Cam Ward. “I didn’t see it,” Pominville said. “I just blanked out,” said Pominville. The goal was the 2nd man-advantage goal of the game for the Sabres, as they finished 2 for 7 on the powerplay. The penalty killing unit was perfect, as they stretched their run to 15 straight penalties killed, which included a 5 on 3 for Carolina.
One of the favorite phrases that Sabres fans like to utter, is “SHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!” That they did, finishing the game with a 42-24 shot advantage.
The win moved Buffalo to within two points of Winnipeg for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres are now 12-4-3 in their last 19 games. “It’s huge. We’re making steps,” said Pominville about the run. “We’re playing better hockey. We’ve dug ourselves in a big hole that isn’t easy to get ourselves out of. But we believe.”
Ryan Miller is now 7-1-1 in his last 9 games, including a phenomenal 1.65 goals against average.
Tonight, the Sabres are on the road to face long-time rival Boston. Miller has won six of his last seven meetings with the Bruins, making 35 saves in a 2-1 shootout victory Feb. 24th, and turning away 36 shots in a 6-0 rout on Feb. 8th.
I am fairly certain that it will be another game in which my optimist will be wrestling with my pessimist. For the moment, I remain hopeful.