Sabres persevere in push to Playoffs
The Buffalo Sabres have toyed with my emotions all year long.
First, they started the season dead last at 3-9-2 and I thought "This isn't right. Buffalo has always started out of the gates hot in the first 10 games."
Then, at the end of November, they were 9-13-3 and I thought "Well, they finally won a home game (after starting 0-6-1) but a long shot for playoffs."
Next thing I know, Derek Roy, their leading scorer at the time and a sure All Star, is out for the season with a torn quadricep and I'm thinking "Merry Christmas, Tim. No playoffs this year."
If you had told me they'd go 29-12-6 after losing Roy and finish the season 16-4-4 and even threatening for the 6th seed in the East, I would've had you committed. Throw in a handful of injuries (Buffalo's bane) to Vezina winner Ryan Miller, scorer Drew Stafford and blueliner Jordan Leopold and that run is even more impressive.
In fact, the Sabres had the 4th best winning percentage since the New Year, trailing only New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington. So what do they credit their playoff berth to?
"I don't think it's one thing, I think it's a lot of things," Ruff said. "Derek Roy's injury put a lot of onus on other players to be important players, to play better. We got production from different areas, we had young players step in and play well --Tyler Myers, who struggled early on, really started to play well for us. Our bottom six, what you look at as your third and fourth line, has been producing."
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Lindy can say that again. The Sabres have 12 players with at least 10 goals and 11 with at least 30 points. Former AHL Rookies of the Year Tyler Ennis (20 goals, 49 points) and Nathan Gerbe (16 goals, 31 points) have been the biggest (and the smallest) contributors over the past few months. Drew Stafford stepped up immensely, compiling a career high 31 goals and 52 points and registered an NHL leading 4 hat tricks, including 2 against the Boston Bruins.
"With losing Derek it was frustrating," Stafford said. "But at the same time it gave others an opportunity to do more in an offensive role and maybe get a little more responsibility out there. It was a matter for some of us to take advantage of that opportunity. We've had guys who have been able to step up and put up numbers in Derek's absence. At the same time we've been able to improve our overall team play.
And let's not forget Jhonas Enroth, the young Swedish goaltender who filled in for Miller to go 9-2-2 with a 2.73 Goals-Against Average and .907 save percentage, earning big wins including a huge shutout over the New York Rangers that vaulted them into 7th in the East. Miller is back and will undoubtedly start the first round against Philadelphia. In front of him will be an improved defense and solid scoring with plenty of depth and a whole lot of heart.
"I don't think you can pinpoint one thing that turned it around. It was a collective effort from everyone. We didn't want to throw it away after the poor start we had. Now looking back, none of that matters because we're in a playoff spot and we control our own destiny," Stafford added.
Maybe it was the injury to Derek Roy (who could be back for the 2nd round). Maybe they were just tired of losing. But Drew is right about one thing. They control their own destiny now. And as the hottest team going into the playoffs, they have a great chance to outlast them all and hoist the cup.
By: Tim Hoskinson
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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