Let’s put it out there: if you are a true fan of hockey, the first round of this year’s NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs exceeded even your most wild expectations. Consider:
- three out of the eight series required a game 7 to decide which team would be moving on to the next round;
- one of those game 7s featured overtime, and the best NHL playoff comeback ever;
- there was an entire series in which every game was decided by one goal (Los Angeles – St. Louis);
- we had a series in which there were three straight overtime games, and four total (Anaheim -Detroit).
All in all, there were 16 overtime games in the first round, and 28 games that were decided by a single goal. Exciting stuff . . . yet, I bet there were an awful lot of Buffalo Sabres’ fans who missed the fun, simply because the Sabres failed to make the playoffs this season.
That’s too bad, because there is a valuable lesson for the Sabres’ organization and its fans to learn by watching these playoffs: all bets are off once the Stanley Cup Playoffs roll around.
People in Buffalo are worried about transforming the Sabres into a Cup contender; what they should be focused on instead is turning the Sabres into a team that can make the playoffs, because EVERY team that makes the playoffs is a Cup-contending team. Look at the Los Angeles Kings last year: they just barely managed to squeeze into the playoffs as the eighth seed out West, and then they rode their super-hot goalie all the way to lifting the Stanley Cup. And they managed to ride red-hot goaltending through the first round AGAIN this year, because everyone with a brain knows that St. Louis played the better series.
Consider the New York Islanders this year: they may not have won the series, but they were an overtime away from forcing a game 7 in a series that most people thought would be a cakewalk for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and we all know that ANYTHING can happen in a game 7 – isn’t that right, Toronto? Too soon? Deal.
How about Detroit and Ottawa – too old/too injured to make it out of the first round? Not. Both of those teams came in as 7 seeds, and both sent their heavily-favored 2-seeds home crying to mama.
Yes, the two heavily-favored teams, Chicago and Pittsburgh, are still alive . . . but if you were to tell me that these teams are invincible, I would be forced to ask you, “What chemicals are you nasally ingesting?” I would not be surprised at all to see the too-old Red Wings vanquish the mighty Blackhawks, or the banged-up Senators cause the Penguins to come up empty-handed yet again.
And that is why anyone who cheers for the Buffalo Sabres need to change their perspective. The path to the Stanley Cup is not some
humongous mountain that the Sabres have to scale; rather, it is a series of smaller hills that lead to a wide-open area where the sky is the limit. If the Sabres can draft wisely, nurture their young talent, and make a timely move here and there when it comes to free-agents or trades, the playoffs will be within their grasp. From there, let the unpredictability of the Stanley Cup Playoffs take over, and let the chips fall where they may.