So Close Yet Still So Far: Sabres Fight for Wildcard Spot

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

By Colleen Meosky

For the first time in a decade, the Buffalo Sabres are on the cusp of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the young talent has been blossoming this season, do Sabres fans dare get their hopes up?

Head Coach Don Granato (fondly nicknamed “Donny Meatballs”) has an offensive approach that’s a far cry from his predecessor, Ralph Krueger. The team currently ranks third in scoring throughout the league with 3.68 goals per game.

On Monday night, Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers came to Keybank Center.

One of the Buffalo’s primary challenges has been inconsistency, but as the regular season draws to a close, the Sabres must perform a practically flawless, nay miraculous, down the stretch to end the 12 year playoff drought. Given their losses to the Oilers and Islanders earlier this week, Buffalo finds itself in a tricky spot in the standings. As of Wednesday night, the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins hold the two Eastern Conference wild card spots, and the Sabres trail them by six and five points, respectively. Waiting in the wings are the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators, so Buffalo needs to surpass three teams come April 14th to realize their playoff dreams.

As the trade deadline has passed, the roster is set. Two new faces have entered the locker room; tough guys Riley Stillman(defenseman) and Jordan Greenway(winger) have been acquired by GM Kevyn Adams to add stronger physicality. While there was speculation of trading for a goaltender, the Sabres are left with their unchanged trio of Eric Comrie, Ukko-Pekka Luukonen, and Craig Anderson. Although Comrie has won his past four starts, two unproven goalies and a man old enough to be Owen Power’s dad is an unconventional approach to netminding.

Another prevailing concern in the team’s playoff race is the health of two top point-producers, Rasmus Dahlin and Alex Tuch. The former missed several games for what the team called a “lingering lower-body injury”. He has since returned to the lineup and played, albeit below par for him. The sooner the Swede recovers to normal capacity, the better; careful not to exacerbate the injury, Granato has gradually increased Dahlin’s ice time. However, while active now, his absence continues to be felt given that he typically logs upwards of 25 minutes. As a dominating playmaker, Buffalo’s success heavily depends on Rasmus Dahlin’s making a quick and full recovery.

As for Alex Tuch, the right winger has been placed on injured reserve. He sustained a lower-body injury during the final minutes of Buffalo’s win over the Florida Panthers on February 24th. He is believed to return before the end of the regular season. However, Kevyn Adams described his predicted recovery time as “the longer side of week to week”. In the meantime, 21-year-old Jack Quinn has filled his place on the top line alongside Tage Thompson and Jeff Skinner.

Tonight, Buffalo takes on the Dallas Stars at home and looks forward to a visit from the Rangers on Saturday. With only 19 games left, the NHL’s youngest roster needs to grow up fast if it wants a spot at the big kids’ table.

While the Sabres face a daunting task ahead, it is truly a milestone for this demoralized franchise to play meaningful games in March. Buffalonians are desperate to end the drought, but the current state of the team is a remarkable improvement from recent years, without a doubt. Here’s to checking the standings again.