What a difference two months makes. Back in January, I read the Sabres their last rites, and was gearing up for a top-five draft pick. Dreams of Nail Yakupov (“Fail for Nail”), Alex Galchenyuk (“Suck For Galchenyuk”) or Mikhail Grigorenko danced in my head. I gave them no chance in hell of even sniffing a playoff spot. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Now?
Now, we’re on the cusp of the biggest game of the year. There very well may be bigger games yet to come – tonight’s game may go a ways to determining who makes the playoffs, but in no way will tonight’s outcome absolutely bury the loser. There are five more games to play after tonight – for both teams – and we could look to the final couple of games as the determining factors. But, tonight is a “statement” game, for both teams.
Neither team was supposed to be here, fighting for a playoff spot in March. Both the Sabres and Capitals were supposed to be near the top of the Eastern Conference, but one fired head coach, uninspired play, a full team’s worth of injuries and plenty of poor play – followed by great play – later, here we are.
And I hate Washington. I have since the Olaf Kolzig days. They were the team to knock the Sabres out of the playoffs back in 1998, and I’ve carried that with me ever since. Alex Ovechkin? Meh. I would rather start my team with Steven Stamkos or Evgeni Malkin. Ovechkin, for all his talents, is a “me first” type of player, and I have no room for those types of “talents”. Sure, he’ll give you his 50+ goals, year in and year out. But, where is his team during the playoffs? Usually on the golf course, after a first or second round exit.
Of course, as a Sabres fan, I really can’t talk about other team’s early playoff exits. But, we don’t have a supposed superstar forward, capable of controlling – or deciding – a game with a couple of shifts…when he wants to. If Buffalo had a perennial 40-50 goal man, things could certainly be different. But, they don’t. They’ve had to make do with a much maligned (undeservedly) 30-40 goal man in Thomas Vanek, and a bunch of (usually) under-achieving forwards who almost always just squeak by when it comes to getting things done on the ice – even with the highest payroll in the NHL this season.
Taking nothing away from the Sabres incredible run these past two months, I for one am sick of just “squeaking by”. That’s why I want to see this Buffalo Sabres team take the ice at the Verizon Center tonight, and play like there’s no tomorrow. There will be other games left on the schedule, but tonight does feel like a game 7. I want to witness a hard skating, harder forchecking and even harder hitting Sabres team willing to drive head first through a brick wall and eat shards of razor-sharp glass to win this game. There needs to be no question as to who wants it more – a chance at making the playoffs.
This is a statement game. Now is the time for the Sabres to make that statement, to shut the mouths (mine included) of all the naysayers who had them dead in the water eight weeks ago. They control their own destiny starting tonight.
Put on your war faces, boys, ‘cuz in less than one hour, it’s game on!
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