Sunday, April 10, 2011
Name One Thing Better Than Hockey...
The title of this post is not, I repeat, not the beginning of a post about how hockey is awesome/better than any other sport. Instead, it's the beginning of one of my favorite expressions- "Name one thing better than hockey...playoff hockey." (Of course, it must be said in a faux-Canadian Gordie accent.) But really, there's no better playoffs than what hockey has-the best trophy, playoff beards, and the most intense games and series of any sport. While the NBA's playoffs feel like an interminable slog (it might have to do with the crappy teams that make it and the terrible scheduling that lengthens every series), the NHL playoffs feel perfectly timed, full of drama, and almost over too soon. And the best part- THE BUFFALO FRIGGIN' SABRES ARE IN IT!
That's right, after a shaky start to the season, the Sabres actually managed to pick it up after the All Star Break/ the introduction of Terry Pegula as the new owner/ the trade for Brad Boyes/ the death of former French Connection star Rick Martin. Thomas Vanek has been streaky (as per usual) but managed to pick it up right when his team has needed it, during the stretch run. Drew Stafford has continued to be surprisingly un-Drew Stafford-ish with consistent production (though maybe it's just his contract year...gulp...), Tim Connolly has decided to actually produce (though I hope to God that his injury prone, inconsistent ass is GONE after this season), and, presumed dead a couple of months ago, Nathan Gerbe has started to light it up. It's exciting to see a player way shorter than the average male do ridiculous things on the ice, like a spin-o-rama backhand to tie the game. (And, dirty little secret time: Derek Roy got injured, freeing up the offense, methinks.) Ryan Miller rounded back into last season's form, and then, when injured, Jhonas Enroth came out of nowhere and stepped up for some huge games. The kid has big game flair and is literally 1 trillion times better than Patrick Lalime. It's good to know there's a capable back up, just in case.
All these factors led to the Sabres eventually clinching the 7th seed in the East (Before they clinched, I couldn't write anything about the run they were on out of fear that I would jinx them into a true Buffalo style choke), setting up a first round matchup with...the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, if you had told me a couple of months ago that Buffalo would be playing Philly in the first round, I would've resigned myself to another first round exit and some hope for next year. But recently, Philadelphia's been on a slide. They slipped right out of the top overall seed and almost dropped their division to the Penguins. They alternate two decent to middling goalies and their power play has considerably slipped. And who beat them to clinch their spot in the playoffs?... that's right, the Buffalo Sabres. Yeah, it was in overtime, but a win is a win. They're not unbeatable. There's hope for Buffalo to get out of the first round if they keep playing the inspired hockey they've played the last two months. If the defense can shore itself up, Miller plays like he's capable (2010 Olympics version would be enough to fuel a run to the Eastern Conference Finals), and the offense (especially Thomas Vanek) steps up, this team can make some noise. I'm thrilled. I know what can happen to a city during an extended playoff run- I live in Chicago- and I know that it would be even more insane in Buffalo, where the city lives and dies with the Sabres. There isn't a whole contingent of bandwagon fans jumping on that don't know anything about hockey (CHICAGO). No, this is real, this is life or death, and I can only hope that it will be a wild ride for as long as possible.
Time to get the Sabres shirts and jerseys ready (I have enough to go for a week), get the radio primed (and synced up to the TV broadcast), write the obnoxious facebook and twitter messages, and grow out that playoff beard. It's one of the best times of the year. Sabres on the warpath.