One year ago, the Sabres were headed to the playoffs as the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. We had the Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes. The Calder Trophy would be awarded to Tyler Myers in a matter of months. And then we got embarrassed by Boston in six games.
This season, we enter the playoffs as the #7 seed. There will be no trophies going to members of this team. And yet, I feel more confident than I have since the Carolina series “back in the day”. Here are my reasons why the Sabres could win the Stanley Cup this season:
1) Our stars are playing like stars. For the past few seasons, the main beef with this team was that our “stars” didn’t shine when they were really needed. This season has been much different. In the 21 games since March 1st, Jason Pominville has 7 goals and 10 assists for a total of 17 points, as well as a +6 rating over that span. Tim Connolly, despite facing a lot of criticism throughout the year, has contributed as well, with 5 goals and 11 assists over the same time period. Drew Stafford has slowed down a bit, but has still contributed 7 goals and 8 assists over the last month and a half. More importantly, he has been playing exceptionally on the penalty kill, and has not had a minus rating in a game since February 20th (+15 over that span). Tyler Myers has played much better during the last month of the season, contributing with 9 assists and a +10 rating. However, no one has been better than Thomas Vanek. He had 6 points in the final two games he played, securing a playoff spot for the Sabres. Over the last 20 games of the season he had 9 goals and 12 assists, carrying the Sabres to the 7th seed in the East. I think it’s safe to say he’ll be wearing the ‘C’ next season.
2) Young guns are firing on all cylinders. Besides Thomas Vanek, no one has played better than Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis, and Jhonas Enroth. Ennis and Gerbe have definitely been the Sabres’ two most electric players during the last month or two of the season. Ennis’ skills are undeniable, and he has secured his spot on one of the top two lines for years to come. Gerbe has become a local favorite, mostly due to his scrappy style of play. Buffalo always loves an underdog, and that is exactly what Gerbe is. Enroth came up HUGE when he was called in to start. It’s nice to finally have a reliable back-up.
3) All we do is win. Over their final 24 games, the Buffalo Sabres went 16-4-4, the best record in the NHL over that span. I personally have not seen a stretch of hockey like this since the President’s Trophy year when we started the season 10-0. The team as a whole is playing fantastic hockey, and it has been fun to watch.
4) There’s something about this team that reminds me of the ’99 team. Three players who have over 50 points. A bunch of scrappy guys that the average ESPN viewer (or analyst for that matter) have never heard of. Played their best hockey at the end of the season. A Vezina Trophy winning goalie. Lindy Ruff behind the bench. 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. Hey, you can dream can’t you???
5) Terry Pegula. The impact this guy has had on the team is undeniable. Whether it’s the carpet in the locker room, or the Alumni-Fest that he coordinated, this guy has changed the mentality surrounding this team. “Winning is not a goal, it’s a belief” has been ringing in my head since the day of his press conference.
6) Barry Melrose picked us to lose. Pretty self-explanatory.
Well there ya have it, folks. Only time will tell what these playoffs will bring to the Sabres and their fans. I’ll be attending games 3 and 4, so let’s hope it’s better than last year’s outcome. Also, Philly try to keep your heads up this time. We don’t want this happening again: