Okay, I'm all in with the chase for eighth. The Sabres win over San Jose was the moment that allowed me to flip the "I'm excited" switch back into the "on" position where it hasn't been since "B.L." or "Before Lucic." As I mentioned it was the San Jose game that did it for me but that game represented a combination of things.
With the win, the Sabres moved within four points of that eighth and final playoff spot which is the closest they've been in a long time. Coupled with that was the fact they jumped up into 10th place so now there is only one team standing between them and eighth. Its so hard to think about them making the playoffs when there are so many other teams to worry about on the out of town scoreboard. For now, its just Winnipeg and Washington that Buffalo has to catch.
This is beginning to look like last year's run which was also sparked by the play of a red hot goalie although it was Jhonas Enroth then and Ryan Miller now. One of the main reasons for the Sabres downward spiral towards the basement of the Eastern Conference was Miller's sub par performances but now he is playing lights out. It started with the final game before the All Star break back on January 24th in New Jersey. It continued out of the break in Montreal and Miller has pretty much been on a roll since. In his last 15 games, Miller is 10-2-3 with a microscopic 1.61 goals against average and an out of this world .948 save percentage. Pretty impressive for a guy who had career worst numbers not too long ago with a goals against above three and a save percentage under .900.
When Miller and the Sabres were struggling, it seemed like the only way they would win a game was if they scored at least four goals but now the offense can have an average or off night and they can still get two points. See the last two games as evidence.
The defense has been much better in front of Miller as well. Tyler Myers hasn't been on the ice for a five on five goal against in the last seven games. Christian Ehrhoff was brought in for his offensive game but has been solid in his own end and Jordan Leopold has been getting more ice time in recent games and showing his ability as a reliable defender.
How about this for a reason to be optimistic? The Sabres are winning without production from their top two offensive players. Earlier this season if Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville didn't have a big game, they were doomed. Over the last seven games, the Sabres are 5-0-2 and Vanek and Pominville have combined for just two goals. The best line in the last two games has been the combination of Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford and Cody Hodgson. Maybe Stafford's game is finally coming to life in what has been a very disappointing season. After scoring 31 goals in 62 games last season, Stafford sits at 13 after scoring the lone goal in the win over the Sharks.
The Sabres are doing well at First Niagara Center with wins in their last three games and a 5-2-1 record in their last eight. Over the first three months of the season they were 8-9-4 on home ice. They're much better on the road, now 5-1-1 in the last 7. This coming after they set a franchise record with a 12 game road losing streak.
I don't know if they'll be able to pull off a second straight comeback and earn a playoff berth that looked like it was impossible at the halfway point of the season but at the very least they are fun again. I'm sure you remember way too many nights where watching this team play was truly painful and sickening. But now I get to stress out again. I get the knots in my stomach that come with pressure packed games and I can resume screaming at my radio or TV depending on how the game is going. Thank goodness its back. Playing out the string just plain stinks and I experience enough of that during football seasons.