Apr 22, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (30) on the bench during the game against the Winnipeg Jets at the First Niagara Center. The Jets beat the Sabres 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

What the Stanley Cup Finals are Showing me About . . . the Buffalo Sabres?

April 17, 2013; Boston, MA USA; The Buffalo Sabres celebrate their shoot out win over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

So the Boston Bruins have taken a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals versus the Chicago Blackhawks.

Bully for them.  If you want to read about the Bruins, head here, because this post isn’t about the boys from Boston.

It’s about the boys in blue and gold, the Buffalo Sabres, and why I keep seeing the number three after last night’s game 3 in Boston.

Let’s start with this: the Buffalo Sabres played the Boston Bruins five times this season.  The Sabres won three of those games.  Now, people want to tell me, “Yeah, but Boston was probably just taking the Sabres lightly.”   Look: the first time you play a team that doesn’t appear to be a threat in the standings, you overlook them, take them lightly.  I get that.  Once you lose to that team, though, you can’t overlook them again, because you only overlook the teams that you know can’t beat you.  Besides, in a 48-game season, ANY team is a threat in the standings – you think those three losses had nothing to do with the fact that Boston let the Northeast Division title and the number two seed in the playoffs slip out of their hands and into the hands of the Montreal Canadiens?  And the fact that one of those losses occurred in Boston a mere two days after the Boston City Marathon bombings, a game which the Bruins wanted to win more than any other regular season game they had played this season, is the final nail in the “The Bruins overlooked the Sabres” argument.  All season long, the Sabres proved to be worthy of sharing the ice with a team that may be lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup in a matter of days.

Now it’s time to consider another example of the number three being significant with these Sabres: the fact that the Sabres could muster no larger than a three-game winning streak all season long.   Remarkable, isn’t it?  A team that beat Boston three times, the Pittsburgh Penguins twice, the Montreal Canadiens three times – playoff teams, all of these – could never manage to string together a four-, five-, or six-game winning streak.  Worse, while they were fighting for their playoff lives, the Sabres managed to lose all of the games they played against the Washington Capitals, the Winnipeg Jets, and the

Carolina Hurricanes, three teams that spent the entire season scratching and clawing to get into the playoffs, with only the Capitals managing to achieve that goal.  In short, the Sabres only managed to look like a team that was fighting for its life every so often, when it felt like it, or however you would describe a team who appeared to forget that they only had 48 games, not 82, to qualify for the playoffs.

There’s no doubt about it: when you watch these Boston Bruins play, you see a team that is enjoying success using an approach that is quite similar to the approach the Sabres have used, with varying degrees of success, throughout the years.  Reliance on strong goaltending?  Check.   An emphasis on quality blueline play?  Check.  The scoring-by-committee approach (a nice way of saying, “We can’t rely on superstars to go for 100 points a season”)?  Checkmate.  Clearly, there is nothing wrong with this approach, as the Bruins’ sweep of the supremely talented Pittsburgh Penguins proved convincingly.  What I’m seeing, then, is that the Sabres don’t need a new approach to playing hockey.  They need a new approach to winning hockey games.

Boston is mentally tough and expects to win games night in and night out.  The Sabres, it would seem, want to play like the Bruins, but can only think like them for short stretches at a time over the course of the regular season.  Uh-oh.  I know I’ve written about this before: the culture of winning.  The Sabres don’t have it, end of debate.  This is why I’m not as adverse to trading Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller as some Sabres fans are.  When the Sabres needed someone to step up and keep everyone in the locker room focused and hungry, who did it?   Vanek?  Miller?  I wasn’t in the locker room, so I cannot say – but I watched the Sabres get smoked by the Islanders 4-0 in Buffalo, and suffered through an 8-4 dismantling (again, at home) at the hands of the Rangers, to know that this team still doesn’t have the correct mixture of veteran leadership, mental toughness, and desire to make the playoffs, much less kick it up a notch like the Boston Bruins have done.  The Sabres may have beaten this team three times during the regular season, but no one who loves the blue and gold could pick the Sabres to win even one game against the playoffs version of the Boston Bruins.  All of which adds to up a true double whammy: not only could the hated Bruins win it all this year, they are showing the hockey world why a team like the Buffao Sabres CANNOT expect to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup any time soon . . . unless major changes take place in the 716.

Look for my explanation of what the Buffalo Sabres organization must do in order to bring hope back to its legions of fans later this week!


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