With less than 15 minutes remaining in the third period the Buffalo Sabres were down 4-1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Luckily, most Buffalo fans stuck around HSBC Arena to witness one of the best comebacks in Buffalo Sabres history. In under 15 minutes the Sabres scored 6 unanswered goals to defeat the Lightning 7-4 and keep their playoff hopes alive.

After a rocky, lethargic start, the fans helped to wake the team up by booing them off of the ice at the end of the second period. “It’s a good thing they stuck around,” Sabres Left Winger Thomas Vanek stated of the comeback who scored his third career hat trick in the game. The Sabres out shot Tampa Bay 16-4 in the third period after a dismal 2 shots on goal in the second period. The Lightning jumped on the scoreboard early when Jeff Halpern ripped a shot past Ryan Miller three minutes into the game. It was a shot Miller should have stopped, but it went in off of his stick side. A few minutes later with Tampa on the power play, Jussi Jokinen punched in a deflection after the Sabres defense failed to clear the puck out of their zone for nearly a minute. Shortly thereafter Buffalos Jason Pominville blasted a shot past Lightning goalie Karri Ramo to make the score 1-2 heading into the second period.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, the Lightning out shot them 8-2 in the second and walked away with two more goals. Ryan Miller went down far too early on a blast from the point, leaving the left side of the net wide open for Vincent Lecavalier to easily make the score 1-3. Miller wasn’t getting much help from his defense either, as the Lightning weren’t being challenged very much on the physical aspect of the game. They were able to skate into the Sabres zone without much resistance throughout the first two periods. The Sabres had a chance to cut the deficit to one when Ramo went too far behind his own net to play the puck. Buffalo stole it from him and when the puck was flung towards a wide open, goalieless net, one of Tampa’s defensemen stuck out their leg at the last instant. The puck bounced harmlessly off of the players skate, spoiling an easy goal for the Sabres. With less than two minutes left in the second, Lecavalier scored again to make the score 1-4 at the end of two.

Then the Sabres proved that they deserve to appear in the postseason. With under fifteen minutes to play in the third period, a glimpse of the Buffalo magic from the previous two seasons reappeared. Pominville scored his second of the night off of a face off, and then 16 seconds later, with traffic in front of the net, Jochen Hecht scored to make it 3-4. Thomas Vanek followed Hecht’s goal with three of his own, giving him a natural hat trick, and putting the Sabres up 6-4. On his third goal, Vanek somehow bunted the puck in past Ramo off of a shot by Derek Roy; The home crowd was going nuts! The Sabres scored these five goals within a frame of ten minutes and four seconds. Within the final two minutes of the period, and thus the game, Buffalo was penalized and Tampa pulled their goalie creating a 6 on 4 power play situation. The defense held, however, as Jochen Hecht slipped in an empty net goal with six ticks left on the clock to seal the win at 7-4. In total Thomas Vanek had three goals, Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht each had two, Ryan Miller made 15 saves, and Derek Roy had three assists.

This game and the two previous are just what the Sabres need to make a strong run at making the post season. Buffalo has now scored 20 goals in the last three games (7-1 vs. Carolina Hurricanes, 6-2 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs) and are still only one point out of the final playoff spot. The idle Philadelphia Flyers remain the 8th seed with 82 points, while Buffalo has 81. Luckily for the Sabres, they received some help in the standings as the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Washington Capitals 5-0. This loss for the Capitals keeps them a point behind Buffalo with 80. The Sabres have 8 games left to play while Washington has only 7.

If the Sabres make a deep push into the playoffs, this game must be looked at as the source of the run. Maybe even as one of the greatest comebacks in Buffalo sports history alongside the Bills/Oilers game. As I stated before in a previous blog, the Sabres must have confidence in themselves and their system. With this amazing victory, it will be difficult for the players to count themselves out of any contest, no matter the situation. Let this momentum carry on because the team will need it. Even though Buffalo is only a point out of the playoffs, their remaining eight games are not going to be easy victories. They play the following four teams twice: the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators, the Montreal Canadiens, and the Boston Bruins. All of these teams are in the Sabres division, and the Bruins, Canadiens, and Senators currently hold a playoff spot while the Maple Leafs are only five points behind the Sabres.

“By far, tonight was the best comeback, given the time of year and how important this game was,” Jason Pominville said. “This was the best comeback I’ve been a part of.”

I’m confident that all Buffalo fans agree. With these final eight games and the way the NHL works, anything can happen.