Litmus test awaits Sabres at MSG

A few weeks ago, this scenario seemed unlikely. The Buffalo Sabres were floundering and looked destined to spend their April hoping to win the lottery rather than a playoff series.

But that’s not where they sit tonight. They sit directly on the fence. Facing their last game before Monday’s NHL trade deadline, the course of action is far from obvious.

After last night’s victory over the Boston Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres sit only a handful of points out of a playoff spot, with the number standing at five heading into tonight’s game against the New York Rangers. Thanks to a 3-0-1 run in their recent four game homestand, the Sabres turned a battle for 15th into a battle back into the picture.

This streak of success this month has turned a wayward season into a decision whether or not to try to save this season or leave it to die on the operating table, and tonight is the last chance to decide. The opponent couldn’t be better selected.

Facing the Sabres tonight is the perfect test they could ask for. They head to New York to face the 1st place Rangers, who are running away with the top spot, currently holding a seven point lead on Boston. Hart Trophy candidate Henrik Lundqvist will get the start in goal. It couldn’t be a better situation.

There has to be a serious internal struggle inside the hockey department and specifically Darcy Regier about how to handle the leadup to 3pm ET on Monday. The team as constructed has struggled so badly this season that a year that began with Stanley Cup hopes now sits in this spot.

Tonight they get an early preview for what awaits them if they push ahead for that 8th spot. It’ll be going into New York and beating the Rangers, who will likely hold that top seed in the East. It’ll be facing Lundqvist, having one hell of a season. It’ll be coming in tired, whether it be last night’s game against Boston, or a two month run of do-or-die hockey.

It’s a night where they can get an honest look at whether it’s worth it or not.

Of course, a loss tonight or a win tonight guarantees nothing. But it’s a chance for Regier to get an honest look at what he’s got. If the Sabres can stand up to the Rangers and steal a win, they can talk themselves into hanging on to their moveable pieces. Whether it be pending UFAs Paul Gaustad and Brad Boyes, or guys that have arguably worn out their welcome like Derek Roy or Drew Stafford. A convincing win tonight can convince the Sabres to say “Let’s give it a shot” and stay put at the deadline.

On the other hand, a loss can be the dose of reality the organization desperately needs. If they get rolled tonight, it’d be all the reason management would need to look realistically and say “We’re not where we need to be to compete, let’s build this team for a Cup run later,” which would’ve been easier to say if the team was in 14th rather than 11th.

While they have reinserted themselves into the playoff discussion, they’re actually closer to holding a top 3 pick than the 8th spot in the East. And the parity in the basement of the East has Buffalo where they are.

But until tonight, the Sabres sit firmly on the fence.

It could be the last game in a Sabres uniform for any number of guys on the roster. That may weigh heavily on the minds of some more than others. Derek Roy and Paul Gaustad have stepped their game up recently to such a degree, you have to wonder if they’re trying to play their way back into the organization’s future plans.

At 7:00, at the iconic arena in New York City, the Sabres, as a team, can decide which side of the fence they’re jumping down on.

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Posted on February 25, 2012, in Sabres/NHL and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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