The results coming out of the All Star break have been discouraging. In two losses in a row in so called must win games, the team looked flat and disinterested. Then a resounding win over Ottawa on Saturday night at home gave us some hope. How did they follow that up? With a thud and a loss in New Jersey in a game that was right there for the taking. Out of a possible 8 points, they got 3. I think that stretch is basically a microcosm of the season so far. 1 win, 2 losses, and an OT loss. This is just not good enough.
Fast forward to last night when the San Jose Sharks came into town at the start of an East Coast road trip. They were in the Finals last year and almost won the cup. They are looking to make another run this year and surely were up for this game, looking to start a long road trip off on the right foot. For the Sabres, they had points against the Sharks in their last 10 straight games, going 9-0-1. That is an amazing stat against such a talented, veteran team.
Out of a possible 8 points coming out of the break, they got 3. That stretch is basically a microcosm of the season so far. 1 win, 2 losses, and an OT loss- It is just not good enough.
Last night the game started off well for us. We had a 1-0 lead in the first period after scoring on the power play. Then all of a sudden, we stopped skating and let San Jose score 4 unanswered goals. First it was Brent Burns with a wicked one-timer that Joel Ward redirected in front of the net, then Logan Couture pounced on a puck that Nilsson initially saved, then lost and left sitting on the goal line for him to slap in. After 2 periods it was 3-1 San Jose and fans booed the team off the ice. The second period lull struck early last night, in the second half of the first and lasted until about 10 minutes left in the third.
After Pavelski scored early in the third, fans began to head for the exits, and I have to say, I cannot blame them this time. As the third began, the Sabres just looked bemused and uninterested. They weren’t skating and some of the players looked like they would rather be somewhere else. I felt to myself, why am I watching this right now? I felt that, but then I said to myself, I’m watching right now because this team has magic and they have stars, and they are better than this, so I must keep watching and hoping for something to happen. Then lightning struck: on the power play with about 11 minutes remaining, Magic Jack hit O’Reilly with an unreal cross ice pass from below the goal line. O’Reilly smashed it home and with that goal, life was jolted back into this group who had sleep walked through more than half the game. It was as if that goal, and that play by two of our stars, was like a giant smelling salt packet that guys use to pep themselves up, for the whole team. In a span of just over three minutes, the Sabres poured the pressure on San Jose and had tied the game, with Kaner and Okposo muscling in goals. After the game, Bylsma said that with the way they flipped a switch and were skating, he thought that his team was going to get the winner in regulation. They almost did, but had to settle for overtime, and a late, but well deserved point. Their performance for the majority of the game did not deserve a point, but the game is 60 minutes, 65 minutes in this case, and they found a way.
In OT, Bylsma started O’Reilly and Okposo, and while this may be looked at critically by some, last night it almost worked out but there was a terrible no call on a trip on O’Reilly that almost gave the Sharks an odd man rush. The Sabres were able to make a change, and Eich and Kaner got on the ice. Once Eich picked up the puck in the defensive zone and began to skate up ice, you knew something amazing was going to happen. His speed is just incredible. He took three strides and the Sharks were all left in the dust. Kane busted up the ice to his left and the Sabres had a 2 on 1. Eich brought it into the zone, hesitated, dropped a shoulder and threaded a pass under the defenseman’s stick to Kane crashing the net. Kaner got his stick on it and roofed it for the big OT winner and his second goal of the night. He scarily caught his skate on goalie Martin Jones’ pad and crashed face and shoulder first into the boards and was down on the ice as his teammates rushed to him to celebrate. He was down for a few moments and as he got up, he looked shaken up. However, he did a post game interview with Duffer and Mayday and he said he is fine and that he was not injured, just shaken up.
It was a great finish to a game, that up to the second half of the third period had been a real disappointment.
What a finish. I am not going to lie, during the second and early third period of that game, I felt like I was watching the rest of the season collapse. I had thoughts in my head similar to when the Bills were losing games they should have won and getting eliminated from playoff contention. It was a dark feeling and depressing. But I kept watching and believing because I believe in the talent this team has and the heart of their leaders. I still have questions about the goaltending, but I am not ready to give up on these guys yet. Like I said, I don’t blame the people who booed or left early; as paying, dedicated, bleeding blue and gold fans, we want to WIN! We want to see greatness, and we deserve greatness. When the team is somnambulating through games that they themselves call must win, people get ticked off and angry. We fans want to see action, heart, fighting, big hits, scoring and we want to see the players succeed. I am glad that they pulled it out last night, but it is disheartening to see the kind of effort they displayed in the end of the first, second and first half of the third periods. We have to figure out a way to play with fire and determination for 60 minutes. The guys in the room talk about it, but we have to do it. I think we have the talent to make a run, but we cannot have anymore of these sleepwalk games. In the NHL, you have to play the whole game like they played the second half of the third.
Tomorrow night we have Anaheim in town for their only visit of the year. They are a good team and it will be a good test to see if the boys can carry over what they did last night into tomorrow night and put up a good fight.
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