Without a doubt it is ‘make or break’ time for the Buffalo Sabres who currently sit at 9th place in the Eastern Conference standings of the NHL. If the team hopes to make the playoffs, they need to start a run tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers and carry the momentum onwards into June. Having been eliminated in dramatic fashion the previous two seasons in the Eastern Conference Championship round by both the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and then the Ottawa Senators in 2007, the Sabres (and fellow Buffalo fans) would be happy with just an appearance in the post season this year. Thus far it has been a season filled with frustration and brief moments of pure joy: losing key players Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency, a rocky start in October, losing the outdoor Winter Classic which was followed by a lengthly losing skid in January, to an awesome multiple game points streak in February. Yet, the Sabres are now 1-3-1 in their last five games. The team now needs to think ahead to the ultimate goal; hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup in HSBC Arena with thousands of fans looking on.

It is far too easy to blame this seasons ups and downs on the departures of Briere and Drury, so I won’t go there. Mainly because both are not playing to the elite levels they did with Buffalo, and their stats are comparable to the top two players of the Sabres;

Chris Drury (New York Rangers) ’07-’08 stats:

  • 66 games played
  • 21 goals
  • 26 assists
  • 47 points
  • -5
  • 34 penalty minutes
  • 11 power play goals
  • 0 short handed goals
  • 6 game winning goals
  • 185 shots

Derek Roy (Buffalo Sabres) ’07-’08 stats:

  • 66 games played
  • 25 goals
  • 33 assists
  • 58 points
  • +10
  • 40 penalty minutes
  • 6 power play goals
  • 2 short handed goals
  • 3 game winning goals
  • 166 shots

Daniel Briere (Philadelphia Flyers) ’07-’08 stats:

  • 66 games played
  • 22 goals
  • 35 assists
  • 57 points
  • -23
  • 56 penalty minutes
  • 11 power play goals
  • 0 short handed goals
  • 3 game winning goals
  • 146 shots

Thomas Vanek (Buffalo Sabres) ’07-’08 stats:

  • 66 games played
  • 27 goals
  • 25 assists
  • 52 points
  • +1
  • 48 penalty minutes
  • 14 power play goals
  • 0 short handed goals
  • 7 game winning goals
  • 199 shots

On paper, these stats show how the roles of Drury and Briere have been filled. Regardless, both players are currently on playoff teams as the Rangers sit in 7th place and the Flyers in 8th. Still, the Sabres are right behind them. If Buffalo manages to win tonight, they will only be one point behind the Flyers with 73. Philadelphia currently has 74 points and the Rangers are tied with the Bruins at 76. Buffalo is riding close though with 71 points. A win tonight would put them only two wins away from surpassing both New York and Boston by placing 5th behind Ottawa who has 80 points along with New Jersey who have the same.

Lets not forget what the New York Giants did this year in the NFL; Their Championship run began late in the football season when their playoff hopes were threatened. The Giants were faced with some ‘make or break’ situations at the end of the season in which they emerged the victor. Their first opponent in said win streak was the Buffalo Bills (how ironic), and they were able to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy over the evil New England Patriots. The New York Giants feared nobody, and the Sabres need to get into the same state of mind.

So what or whom is to blame for this seasons roller-coaster ride thus far; A lack of consistent leadership? Missing depth in the line up? A lack of ‘star power’? The list could go on. While the aforementioned problems with the team do need to be addressed, they are not to blame for this seasons lack of consistency; The Sabres must possess confidence, fearlessness, determination, and focus in order to achieve the ultimate goal. The players need to believe in themselves, their coach, and their fans. If they can do this, June will be a month to remember.

And it all begins tonight.