2011 NHL Playoffs: 10 Bold Predictions for the Buffalo Sabres
While many consider the Sabres to be a one and done team in the playoffs, I have to respectfully disagree. After watching the first period and part of the second in their first round match up with the Philadelphia Flyers, I am confident that my “10 Bold Predictions” are indeed true to form. The pivotal point in just about every one of these predictions is one person – Terry Pegula.
The emergence of an owner who is the antithesis of his predecessor and someone who is not only reaching out to the fan base but to the players as well is creating an atmosphere that is reminiscent of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions. He is developing an environment where people want to be and like any good employer, he understands that valuing your employees benefits everyone and provides a ripple effect that will have infinite returns.
1. The Sabres Can Beat the Flyers in 5 Games or Even Sweep
Why? The Sabres now have a confidence and a more relaxed style of play which allows them to expand their game to a level that many have rarely seen. The powers of suggestion can be an amazing thing. The positive vibes that are running through the Sabres community are hard to ignore. Honestly, have you seen so many people smiling in Buffalo before? Happy Sabres fans used to be an anomaly, not anymore!
2. the Sabres Are a Cup Worthy Team
Many often consider the Sabres as a throw away team. A friend who is a Canadiens fan jokingly told me that whenever he sees the Sabres on the schedule, he instinctively thinks “Two Points.” In the past, this may well have been the case, particularly over the past few years. The the new mentality and renewed fan base, if the Sabres don't win it all this year, certainly within the next three years there will certainly be joy in Pegulaville.
3. Nathan Gerbe Is Going to Begin to Crescendo
In recent weeks Gerbe’s game has been dramatically improving. The second half of the regular season saw an increase in his overall statistics and most importantly, he is finding the net more often. His regular season numbers: 64 games, 16 goals, 15 assists and a +11 for 31 points (21 of those points have been since January).
4. Thomas Vanek’s Consistency Will Be the Sabres Key to Success
In the regular season Vanek lead the Sabres in points with 73 and goals with 32. While he may not wear a C on his jersey, he has certainly performed like one statistically as well as his on ice presence. He makes himself visible and will take the initiative to speak to the referees and function as if that C were there.
5. The Pegula Effect Will Be Pandemic (if It Isn't Already)
As we saw in Chicago, the mentality of the front office can be contagious and give both fans and players something to believe in. Sabres’ fans have, at times, felt like they had the proverbial bag over their head because of poor decisions made by the ownership all in the name of frugality. Yet, on the day that he took control of the team, Terry Pegula made two bold statements that will forever echo through the history of the Buffalo Sabres; “Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup” and “Winning is not a goal, it is a belief.” How can you not love this guy?
6. Drew Stafford Will Step Up in Surprising Fashion
I will be honest, I have been very critical of Stafford and I have felt that his play has been lackluster at best. The fact that his play stepped up significantly just before the trade deadline didn’t go un-noticed and one has to wonder if that was a coincidence or by design. The way he carries himself has really left me cold. He almost personified both the fans and players mentality toward the organization under the previous owner. Yet, now will he embrace the new atmosphere and allow himself to play like the first round draft pick that he is? I think so. We are going to see much more of a team player.
7. Ryan Miller’s Performance Will Reflect That of His Teammates
Ryan Miller’s game, as we saw in the 2010 Olympics, can go to levels that are almost epic. If he doesn’t feel like his teammates are battling for the puck, making the hard hits and playing smart hockey, he seems to subconsciously back off as well. If the team plays at a playoff level, so will Miller.
8. The Sabres Will Effectively Take the Flyers’ Fans out of the Game in Philly
This is probably the boldest of my predictions. The Flyer fan base is known to be loud and proud yet they are also rather critical of their team. They will turn on their team like a rabid dog and if Buffalo can play at a level that will silence the fans at the Wells Fargo Center, the seventh man will be effectively eliminated.
9. The Sabres Will Play at a Physical Level That Hasn’t Been Seen Before
Playing the Flyers in the first round will give the Sabres a nice taste of playoff hockey. I have felt that the Sabres have never truly brought their game to a level that they feel is their very best due to behind the scene issues that the public may not be completely privy to. We will see them match the physicality level of whomever they are playing. We saw in the first period that the Sabres showed no fear against one of the most physical and “in your face” teams in the league. The adage, “you get what you give” will certainly ring true.
10. Injuries Will Not Be a Factor
Compared to most playoff teams, Buffalo is relatively healthy and they will stay that way, I just have a feeling about this one. Even with the heightened level of physical play, I expect them to work hard off the ice to maintain their health, get their rest and go fairly deep into the playoffs and quite possibly win it all. With Derek Roy’s pending return in the 2nd round, we can expect even better from this team and the possibility of becoming even more of a threat to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.