What was I freaking out for? That was EASY!! There I was, hunkered down in the basement of my house in full scale playoff mode(which means no one talks to me or even comes down to the basement while the game is on) and I could have been relaxing in the recliner in the family room enjoying the game with my wife and son.
The Buffalo Sabres workmanlike rise from literally the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings continued with a butt kicking of the Washington Capitals. Maybe I should have given the Sabres more credit and not had any reason to be nervous based on how they’ve played the last 2 months. All those worries about Alexander Ovechkin, who had been playing his best offensive hockey of the season were apparently a waste of time. Ovechkin’s most memorable play of the game was getting beaten by Jason Pominville on the back breaking shorthanded goal to give the Sabres a 4-1 lead.
Why fret when you have Ryan Miller in goal. After making a season high 44 saves, Miller saw his record improve to 14-1-3 in his last 18 games. Stop and think about that for a moment. Miller has had only 1 regulation loss in his last 18 games, a 3-1 defeat in Winnipeg at the end of a 5 game road trip and after spectacular play in Anaheim and a game stealing performance in San Jose. Miller has been playing like a Vezina Trophy winning goalie since the All Star break.
One of the many strengths in the Sabres 2nd amazing run in as many seasons has been their ability to handle adversity. Last night it came in the form of defensemen suffering injuries. Christian Ehrhoff goes down in the 1st period and Andrej Sekera is injured in the 2nd but the Sabres find a way to not only protect their lead but expand it as well. That Pominville signature moment shorty came with Ehrhoff and Sekera in the dressing room and Robyn Regehr in the penalty box.
Jordan Leopold played the role of unsung hero not only last night as he logged a game high 28 plus minutes of action but in the 2nd half of the season too. With Tyler Myers, Ehrhoff and Regehr back there, you forget about Leopold but the steady, unflappable veteran just goes about his business and has impressed with his play in his own end.
What can you say about the line of Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno? They continue to dominate the opposition and bury numerous odd man rushes. The trio have now combined for 17 goals, 38 points and are a plus 32 in the last 9 games. Ennis is absolutely flying and made a beautiful play to set up Stafford for 1 of his 2 goals. He held on to the puck while a Caps defender dove down to take away the pass and Ennis calmly skated around him and then sent a pass to Stafford for the slam dunk.
Stafford, who looked completely lost earlier this season amidst talk that last year’s seemingly breakthrough 31 goal campaign was a vintage contract year, that Stafford now has 19 goals.
While the buzz intensifies around town, obviously there is still work to do like clinch a playoff spot but the way the Sabres are playing, solid across the board, why would anyone think they’d collapse over the last 5 games?
In addition, their closest pursuers just laid a major egg in their biggest game of the season. Imagine what the Caps are thinking right now. With everything that was on the line, having the game on home ice, they were completely skunked by the Sabres and Ovechkin was kept off the score sheet despite getting more than 25 minutes of ice time, 6 and a half coming on power plays.
Here are the numbers as the Sabres now await Friday’s home game with a Pittsburgh team that has given up 13 goals while losing its last 2 games to Ottawa and the New York Islanders. Buffalo is on a season best 5 game win streak(all in regulation), is 7-0-2 in the last 9 and 18-5-5 since the All Star break. After setting a franchise record with a 12 game road losing streak, the Sabres are now 10-3-2 in their last 15 games away from First Niagara Center. It’s a good thing because the last 2 games of the season are on the road against Philadelphia and Boston.