Monday, March 5, 2012

Right in the thick of things

The Buffalo Sabres enter tonight's game at Winnipeg with the prospect of doing something unthinkable a six weeks ago--the #8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Six weeks ago they were stuck in a franchise record 12 game losing streak at the bottom of the conference 10 points out of a playoff spot.

Beginning with a 2-1 win at New Jersey, the team went on a mini-run going 4-0-1. It was a good stretch, but they ended up gaining only one point on the 8th seed and still had four teams to jump over.

An 0-3-1 winless streak in February kept their playoff hopes dim, but a strong finish in February and a 3-0-0 west coast streak to straddle February and March put them in the position they're in right now.

As of today, Winnipeg is in the 8th spot, two points ahead of Buffalo with the Sabres having one game in hand. Washington and Tampa Bay are both ahead of Buffalo and have the night off. The Capitals are one point ahead of Buffalo while the Lightning are even, but own the tie-breaker having played the same amount of games.

If the Sabres win tonight in regulation, they will have worked themselves into a playoff spot, even if it's for only one night.

Goalie Ryan Miller has been stellar the last three games going 3-0 with two shutouts (2-0 in Anaheim and 1-0 in San Jose') and although he gave up three goals in Vancouver, the team scored five for the win.

The defense has been solid while the offense has done what's necessary to secure victory.

Interesting to note that the Sabres top line of Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville have been in the tank the last six games after a breakout game in Pittsburgh, the first game that line was "reunited":  Roy--1g, 3a, minus-2; Vanek--1g, 1a, minus-1; Pominville 0g, 2a, minus-2.

Since the All-star break the Sabres have gone 10-3-3. since their three game winless streak they've gone 6-0-1.

Here's a look at the present Eastern Conference bubble teams:
  • 7th place, Ottawa--76 pts.
  • 8th, Winnipeg--70
  • 9th, Washington- 69
  • 10th, Tampa Bay--68
  • 11th, Buffalo--68
  • 12th, Toronto--67
A look at the upcoming week for the teams:

Ottawa (3 games)--@ Tampa Bay, NY Rangers, Buffalo
Winnipeg (3 games)--Buffalo, @ Vancouver, @ Calgary
Washington (4 games)--Carolina, Tampa Bay, @ Boston, Toronto
Tampa Bay (3 games)--Ottawa, @ Washington, Carolina
Buffalo (4 games)--@ Winnipeg, Carolina, @ Boston, @ Ottawa
Toronto (4 games)--Boston, @ Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, @ Washington

The goal for the Sabres should be 94 points. With that they should be able to secure at least 8th place in the conference and make the tie breaker a moot point.

At 68 points, they'll need another 26 to hit that mark. With 17 games remaining that equates to a record of 12-3-2.

Still a tall order, although the improbability factor has gotten better. When they started this run, sportsclubstats had them at a 0.6% chance of making the playoffs. Today they sit at a 32% chance.

The Sabres hit the Heart Of Gold's Infinite Improbability Drive back six weeks back: 
"Please do not be alarmed," it said, "by anything you see or hear around you…We are now cruising at a level of two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand to one against and falling, and we will be restoring normality just as soon as we are sure what is normal anyway. Thank you…"

Arthur Dents in Sabreland, hold on to your towel.

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