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Judgement Night

Posted By William Brouillette On Feb 3 2010 @ 6:16 pm In Buffalo Sabres | 4 Comments

The most important game of the season for Sabres fans

It is almost assuredly just that for the Buffalo Sabres 2010 later tonight.
A hard, close win will somewhat soothe the Sabre fan masses.
A resounding victory would put the minds of all at a temporary ease.
A loss? Well, a loss would send everyone over the edge that they had been teetering on since the long west coast road trip.
To understand the current outlook of Sabres fans, let's look at their psychology leading up to today.

The buzz word for the mental state of Sabres fans over the course of the recent west coast trip and the subsequent 3 home games would be dichotomy.
No, that's not one of your college science classes. It's an apt description of the psyche of a large cluster of Sabres fans, and maybe even the entire fan base.
You have one half of the brain reveling in the Sabres somewhat surprising fight for their place in the aristocracy of the eastern conference, and while that half celebrates with every win, you have the other half, which is more boisterous and vocal in it's thought, which is this singular notion :

This team needs to make a major trade to win the cup this year!

After the team's lackluster record upon completion of the west coast road trip (2-3-2 6 out of a potential 14 points), you have a rallying cry in Sabre fandom stating the trip proved they are not really that good of a team. Their record is not really that good. They can't beat the top teams. They will be lucky to win a round of the playoffs. They are essentially a goalie and nothing else.
Peruse any Sabres message board and you will find it littered with trade ideas, most of them of the breakup the core, major shakeup variety. The sort of thing that smart teams never do unless it is either the off-season, or the team is struggling mightily, ala the Maple Leafs moves yesterday.
When you are fighting for the top spot in the East, and have a realistic chance of doing some damage in the playoffs with your current roster, the last thing you do is dump TNT into the middle of the locker room and throw the switch.
Perhaps a more detailed look at the west coast trip and following 3 games would provide clarity.

They start by beating Atlanta, their nemesis.
They lose in the 8th round of a shootout to the Islanders where Ricky plays fantastic.
They destroy Phoenix. They play an abysmal first period going down 4-0 to the Ducks, and if not for the excellent play of Hiller, they may won the game instead of losing 5-4.
They lose a tough, close game to the Kings in a shootout.
They lose to the Sharks in a game where, for large chunks of the game, they clearly outplayed San Jose only to have Nabokov stone them until the Sharks finally broke through midway in the 3rd period.
They lose a heartbreaker to the Canucks on a goal from Brad Lukowich (?!) in a game they easily could have won.
They return home to play 2 teams with sleeper hold game styles to beat each at their own game 2-1.
They plaw an awful 2nd period after scoring the 3rd goal against the Penguins, and still fight back to 5-4, with Fleury saving the Penguins bacon by making several excellent saves in the last 2 minutes.

Some see those losses as all gloom and doom. I do not.
Their play in parts of some of those games (the Ducks and Penguins games specifically) were horrible, but more importantly was how they fought back in each game. This team the past 2 years would have folded the tent in those games and never come back. Not this team, this year.
They are near or in the top 5 of many important ?statistical categories (5-on-5 goals, goals allowed, penalty kill, goals scored in the first 5 minutes of games).
They don't relinquish leads after 2 periods (which was a CONSTANT problem the past 2 years).
They win close, defensive, 1 goal games.
These are all markers and indicators of playoff success.
Is the play of their 5/6 D pairing startling in it's last 2 week decline? Yes.
Both Montador (in dire need of the Olympic break) and Lydman (in need of a new address) need to pick it up, but as the game against New Jersey showed, Andrej Sekera and even Nathan Paetsch are more than ?capable of filling that 5th or 6th spot on the defense. Especially Sekera.

Forget all that for right now and focus on the game tonight.
If they win in regulation, no matter how tight the game, they will be up by 7 points with 2 games in hand. A commanding position.
Lose? Lose and you will have more Sabres fans jumping off this ship than those that were flying off the Titanic despite all of the positives this team has showed all season.

What is your prediction for tonight?

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