Many Sabres fans, including myself, were a bit premature after Buffalo moved into seventh place last week. I was already thinking about who the Sabres should play in the first round. Well, after a 1-0 loss to Carolina, Buffalo is the team that everyone is looking to beat.
It’s not over until it’s over. New Jersey knows a little something about that this season. Former Sabre Henrik Tallinder and the revitalized Devils are looking to make one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, and I have jumped on the bandwagon. I’ve always felt that teams like New Jersey and Detroit have always been good, always making the playoffs. That’s because they have.
As much as I normally dislike the Devils, this year is different. After being in last place for the first half of the season, New Jersey has gained my respect. If there is one team that I do not want the Sabres to face down this final stretch, it’s the Devils.
The Devils are just six points behind Buffalo. They still play the Sabres one more time and they have a game in hand. It will be no easy task fending them off. They even have a chance to catch the Rangers in seventh. New Jersey trails New York by eight points, but still have two games in hand and a meeting against them in the second to last game of the season.
Obviously, I want the Sabres to make the playoffs, but I believe that New Jersey will take the seventh or eighth spot in the East. I feel sorry for whoever has to face New Jersey in the first round (if they make it) because they will put up one heck of a fight.
New Jersey started the season with a 10-29-2 record, falling 27 points back of the eighth place spot. Since January 9th, the Devils have been on fire, going 23-3-2 and moving to just six points back!
No team has ever made the playoffs after a deficit of at least 12 points. New Jersey is looking to shatter that record.
The Devils also just went through a span of 17 games without allowing a first period goal, a big reason in why they were able to win so many games. That streak was snapped when they fell behind 2-0 to the Islanders in the first period on Tuesday. But, the Devils came storming back with four unanswered goals to win that game, too.
The last couple of weeks, many Buffalo fans were content because the Sabres had game in hand over most teams. Well, guess what. Those games in hand are gone. Don’t count on the Sabres just cruising through the final stretch.
The Sabres still have games against every team in the Eastern Conference, with the exception of the Islanders, Boston, Pittsburgh and Ottawa. Not one of the remaining games will be an easy win, but not many are in the NHL anymore.
Remember that the Sabres did not get off to a good start this season, either. It wasn’t as bad as New Jersey, but Buffalo were 10 games back at one point. The Sabres started off 15-18-3, including a 3-7-2 record in October.
It goes to show you that games early in the season are just as important as the ones toward the end. New Jersey defeated Buffalo 1-0 in October. The Sabres went on to win the next two against the Devils, and those games turned out to be huge.
There are still four teams that could move into the playoffs by the end of the season, and as a Sabres fan, I’m extremely nervous.
Carolina, Toronto and New Jersey are all in the chase. Even Atlanta are just six points out. The Thrashers have fallen dramatically though, going 7-14-6 since January 7th. Going 2-7-2 in February didn’t help their cause.
Overall, I believe that New Jersey will take the seventh spot and the Sabres will take eighth. The Rangers are going to drop off. Carolina and Toronto don’t want it enough as the other teams.
I know Buffalo just lost to the Hurricanes, but it was a solid effort. I think the whole road trip and the passing of Rick Martin, finally caught up to them. I think now is a great time for three days off.
With the presence of Terry Pegula, I think the Sabres are determined to do well this season. They, along with New Jersey, would be fully capable of pulling off a first-round upset if they make the playoffs.
That brings me to my next piece: ‘Playoff Momentum’ which will be posted tomorrow.