It's now 9-straight games in which the Sabres have played well, but with the door left open before last night's game, regardless of their effort, is it now closed for the final time?
They say anger is a much easier emotion to deal with that hurt, which is why I now scoff at my previous assertion that losses are easier to take when the team plays well. Wrong again! I'm finding that it was far easier for me to deal with high magnitude losses when the Sabres played like garbage, didn't care, and showed no desperation at all. It's true, anger is a much easier emotion to deal with.
Last night, Buffalo showed us once again that our belief that they'd given up 3-weeks ago was unfounded, because playing in their 3rd game in 4-nights against Marty Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils, and down 3-0 heading into the 3rd period, nearly made a comeback against, in my opinion, the best team in the league while playing with a lead. After MacArthur's goal closed the gap to one with less than 4-minutes remaining, you had to feel that they were going to find a way to tie the game, and somehow pull it off in overtime. Well, it was not to be. And sadly, after the strong push they've had in the last 2-weeks, their 21-shot 3rd may be a microcosm of how their season may come to an end.
For the first time during this desperate run at a post-season berth, the Sabres played a game with something to lose. Heading into action yesterday evening Buffalo had earned control of their own destiny – and it showed. Despite playing hard, they looked nervous out there, and mistakes not related to effort put them in an early, ultimately insurmountable hole. Miller looked shaky on the first Devils' goal as he was out of position when Clarkson tossed a shot into a gaping stick side. Tallinder made a horrible gaffe when instead of sensing the time he had to clear the puck while shorthanded, acted in a panicked fashion and essentially passed it to the New Jersey point man – you guessed it, it ended up in his own net. And Andrej Sekera looked extremely nervous as he made a poor decision in his own end, turning the puck over in the corner, and watching helplessly as Langenbrunner scored the eventual game-winning goal early in the 2nd frame.
It's quite clear to me that this team feasts on having nothing to lose, and being able to play with reckless abandon. Thus, interestingly enough, I feel more confident about a potential playoff berth now than I did before the game began last night. The reasoning for this is simple. They are now behind the 8-ball once again. Moreover, I truly didn't expect them to be in last night's contest at all. Instead, they played another strong game, despite what the early 3-0 deficit would have you believe. They forechecked hard, played desperate hockey, and never gave up, regardless of the seemingly impossible odds against them. And that is precisely what I expect them to do over these final 4-games. Additionally, I have a feeling in my gut that if they can get past Detroit on Monday, it will be the Rangers and Panthers hoping for some help with regard to the Sabres. Because for as tough as our final 4-games are, those two teams don't have it any easier. It's going to simply come down to who wants it more. And right now, for as insane as it seems for me to say this, I truly believe that our team right here in Buffalo is at the top of the standings in terms of desire.
Whether or not that translates into an improbable playoff berth remains to be seen.
In the meantime…
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Written by Tim Anderson