Published by hockeybuzz.com, 3-15-2018
With 13 games left in a lost season there's really not a lot to play for when it comes to the Buffalo Sabres. Sure you'll hear things like playing for pride, for a spot on the team or another contract next season whether it's with the Sabres or some other NHL team and those are all pretty good motivators. On Saturday the Sabres got a visit from the Las Vegas Golden Knights on a designated 'Kids Day' and foraged some redemption after getting blown out on the previous two Kids Days. They lost to Vegas 2-1 in the shootout.
But tonight is a little different. All the aforementioned motivators may come into effect for the players as individuals, but when you're facing the Toronto Maple Leafs, there isn't much more of a motivating factor for the team as a whole then facing a rival that's about 100 miles away.
Tonight's matchup at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY represents the second of four matchups between the two clubs all of which will have taken place between March 5 and April 2. Buffalo won the first one 5-3 with star Jack Eichel on the sidelines and backup goalie Chad Johnson in net. They came out strong with two goals in the first 3:43 of the game, allowed Toronto to tie it up then scored three unanswered goals to put the game out of reach.
It was the kind of game that those of us in Sabreland like to see, especially against Toronto when half (or more) of the KeyBank Center crowd is decked out in the Blue and White of Leafs Nation.
Proximity, of course, can help fuel a rivalry as does a history with said team and both of those come into play. However, if that isn't enough to get the blood pumping, the condescension flowing down towards Buffalo from the self-proclaimed Center of the Hockey Universe should get the job done.
Those watching that Buffalo/Toronto game live or on NBCSN missed out on the disdain that those perched high upon Mount Maple Leaf really have for the Buffalo Sabres. Prior to the game, TSN4 studio host James Duthie introduced "Sabres/Leafs month" by stating, "There have been a lot of painful nights for the Buffalo Sabres this season but this one will hurt a little bit extra, even if they win because they'll have to look across and look at [Leafs head coach] Mike Babcock, the coach they wanted, the coach they thought they had.
"They have to look at the Leafs, a team that won the lottery when they needed to unlike the Sabres who lost the [Connor] McDavid lottery and they have to look at the team that put the 'build' in in rebuild, unlike the Sabres who have just been stuck in the basement."
Some hard truths no doubt, but Duthie makes sure he twists that knife a little harder and deeper by saying that, "if the Leafs had played better on the road [in the games before Buffalo,] and if they'd maybe won the outdoor game [prior to this game] then maybe you could call this a trap game against lowwwwly Buffalo."
The hockey world thanks you for allowing us in your presence, Mr. Duthie.
Simple fact is, things went awry in Buffalo with their rebuild. Say what you want, but it just didn't go as planned. However, even as bad as it's been, perhaps a semblance of respect should be given to a "lowwwly" Sabres team that is now 8-2-0 vs. the Leafs at home and is 6-4-0 against the Leafs since Babcock took over the reigns beginning with the 2015-16 season.
Toronto has been locked into third in the Atlantic Division for some time and with 14 points separating them and the fourth place Florida Panthers, it looks as if they'll make the playoffs for the second season in a row.
Buffalo is in last place...again...but it doesn't mean that they can't make life difficult for their neighbors to the North.
From the Sabres, today's game-day skate had this lineup:
Reports from the rink have Robin Lehner starting in goal for Buffalo.