Sunday, March 30, 2008

Buffalo Sabres Stay the Course...and Meltdown Yet Again

It's been a trying season for the Buffalo Sabres, to say the least, and it appears that it won't be getting any easier though it may finally be coming to an end. Contracts, trades, free agency and injuries have severly damaged what was one of the best teams in hockey for the last couple of years. Despite all of that, and a 10+ game slump in the middle of the season, the Sabres have been on the verge of sliding into the 8th and final spot in the East for the last week or so. However, their performance over the last week may have finally put them to rest.

The Sabres are 4-3-3 in their last 10 games, but that doesn't tell the whole story. In the last week alone, the Sabres have managed to squander three points in games that were absolute must-wins and games they simply gave away. On March 25th, against the rival Ottawa Senators the Sabres appeared to have the game in-hand when they scored two quick goals to start the third which put them up 3-1. A little less than 10 minutes later the Sabres were on the powerplay on the verge of putting the game away when one of their defensemen made a terrible decision to pinch along the boards. He got caught and it produced a shorthanded scoring opportunity that Dean McAmmond buried to cut the lead to 1. Less than 2 minutes later Daniel Alfredsson scored to tie the game and it seemed as if the Sabres threw in the towel. In the next 4 minutes and 18 seconds the Senators would rattle off 2 more goals and then throw in an empty netter with 1 second left to leave Buffalo with a 6-3 win. 2 points given away at a time where you simply can't afford to do that.

Buffalo somewhat made amends 2 nights later when they scored with less than a minute and a half left in the game to force overtime against the Senators. Buffalo eventually won in a shootout. The next night the Sabres faced the Eastern Conference leading Montreal Canadiens. The Sabres dominated in shots on goal, but the Canadiens had twice as many "scoring opportunities" as the Sabres starting the third period in a game that was tied at 1. Ryan Miller, who has not been great when his team needed him so desperately, actually had a good night making a number of key saves. Buffalo stormed out of the gate and scored two goals in the first 7 minutes to go up 3-1. Buffalo had a number of chances to extend the lead but Carey Price kept Montreal in the hunt and with a minute and a half left Tomas Plekanec scored on the powerplay to cut the lead to 1. Suddenly, it felt hopeless. It seemed that the Sabres were destined to throw away another 2 goal lead and eventually they did as Plekanec scored his second of the game with 15 seconds left to force overtime. Christopher Higgins ended the game 3:38 into overtime. It was another devastating loss that followed what has become a familiar script for Buffalo fans.

Now Buffalo stands 6 points out of a playoff sport with 4 games left and their season is essentially over. At the very least those 3 points would have put the Sabres squarely in the hunt for the playoffs. Now they'll be watching from home for the first time in recent memory and the attention quickly shifts to re-signing Ryan Miller. At this point, the Sabres failing to re-sign any player would not surprise me.

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