Don't count me among the many Sabres fans who are ecstatic now that their Buffalo Sabres have finally decided to grow up and play like the hockey team we were all promised at the beginning of the season.
For the second year in a row this team waited until mid-season to give a shit. Only this time there will almost certainly be no playoffs. Even after taking nine of 10 possible points in their last five games, the Sabres still sit in 12th place, two points out of 15th.
And even if they did miraculously happen to make the playoffs, what then? Another first-round exit followed by excuses about injuries to key personnel? Jibberish about how juggling lines compromises team chemistry? More canned statements about the need to put in 60 minutes a night and be stronger on the puck?
I'm half-tempted to think that this is the year Buffalo wins the Cup. I mean, no kidding, ever since I actually began legitimately rooting for the Sabres to lose out the season so they could pull a top three draft pick, they've gone 4-0-1. You can't make this shit up. Boston had its only goal of the game disallowed last night on the worst call I think I've ever seen. This is the type of stuff that always used to happen to the Sabres.
Trevor Luck is a compelling phenomenon, my friends. Back in college my housemates used to tell me I was just feeling sorry for myself whenever things wouldn't go my way. Then they all just "curiously" stopped getting laid. Just sayin'.
But on the off-chance the Sabres' fate doesn't revolve completely around me, I'll tell you what all of this means: The Buffalo Sabres will -- for the umpteenth time -- do just enough to convince ownership to keep Regier and Ruff around for yet another season. Or five. I can't even keep track anymore.
So go ahead and root on your team. I don't necessarily begrudge Sabres fans for that. But I'm not going to forget how this team crumpled under the pressure of losing players during a rough injury stretch. I'm not going to forget that ownership, management, and the coaching staff condoned abject failure when things got a little tough. I'm not going to forget that many of the players who weren't hurt were playing like crap well before they had to play with the farm boys. And I won't forget that the Sabres blew out the Bruins last night without Thomas Vanek.
I think Boston's play last night was largely due to its underestimation of the Sabres. You can't take anything away from Buffalo's effort because it was easily the best game they've played all season in every facet, but there are few teams who laugh at the Sabres more than the Bruins do. That said, Buffalo reinforced what I've said for the past two months: that this team is not short on talent, it's short on heart.
One game doesn't make a season. And neither do 40. It actually pisses me off more to watch a game like last night's than to never see one at all, because all it does is illustrate the fact that this team can play hard every night but chooses not to. Sure, you're going to have off-nights. Just ask Boston about that today. But if you can't show up for 90 percent of your games willing to lay it down, then massive changes need to be made. And a handful of good games don't come close to changing that in my mind.
Injuries are a bitch, but they are and were not the problem. Buffalo's injuries this season merely served as a sympton, albeit a very noticeable one, of the underlying causes of this team's failure: lack of focus and mental toughness.
You're probably not going to do much better than .500 with eight regulars out of the lineup and a goalie who may or may not have been suffering lingering effects of a concussion. But you're not going to spiral into the abyss if you're mentally tough either. You're not going to watch your season sail down the train over the span of 20 games if you can win half your games.
Forget for a moment physical toughness (which the Sabres need to improve upon but nevertheless showed last night they can bring when they want to). A team that isn't mentally strong is incapable of mustering the will to play physically in the first place.
So suck it up, guys, and play your little hearts out for the remainder of the regular season. Do just enough to save your jobs and finish with mid-round draft picks this summer. After all, I'm not sure it's really even your fault anymore.