So is it just me, or are the Sabres suddenly kinda fun to watch again? It seems like years ago that I was complaining loudly about how much I hated everyone and it was actually only a few weeks ago. If it's even been that long. Suddenly everything is clicking. Passes are connecting, shots are going in, goaltending has improved and by some miracle of the Hockey Gods, the patchwork defense has held up.
I think the biggest difference is that this group of players is finally - FINALLY - showing some signs of maturity. Early in the season these Sabres probably would've gone down 3-1 to Anaheim and decided you know, it's the end of a long road trip, our brains are all scrambled from the time zone changes, we've already met the coach's stated goal of a .500 performance and then packed it in for the night, eventually losing 5-1. Instead they made a real effort to come back and even though it wasn't successful, they didn't let the game get away from them either. Early in the season, these Sabres would've rolled back home after a trip out West and phoned it in against an opponent they really should be beating. Instead they came charging out of the gate like they had something to prove and handily beat a team below them. Early in the season these Sabres would've jumped out to 2-0 lead and decided that was all the hockey they needed to play, coughing up the lead and possibly the game. Instead they put the boot to the neck of Toronto and won handily.
Like a naive, hopeless fool, I've spent the last few days examining the standings, studying potential playoff match-up and yes, totally convincing myself that this team might have some kind of playoff run in them after all. After the recent death of John Updike, references to some of his sports writing started popping up in different places with his piece about Ted Williams' final game ("Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," absolutely worth following the link and reading if you're not familiar with it) seeming to get the most mentions. In it, Updike talks about how sports can sometimes make otherwise rational people wish and hope for unlikely things. "... there will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, an indefensible hope." That pretty much sums up how I'm feeling these days. I know it's crazy to think that this time the Sabres have finally had a real breakthrough. I know that in the grand scheme of the season, six games is six games, a teeny tiny sample. I know that the team, even as well as its playing, has some weaknesses that could cause problems in the postseason. I know continued success relies heavily on things like Ryan Miller continuing to play well and Tim Connolly remaining healthy. I know that mere weeks ago I was convinced this was the worst team in the world.
And yet... I keep pushing those thoughts aside and thinking about things like how no one in the Eastern Conference is an elite team, how the Sabres have matched up very well with some of the teams in the upper half of the conference, how Tim Connolly is looking eerily like the Timmy who dominated the 2005-2006 playoffs, how the team finally seems to be growing up and listening to their coach once in a while, how they seem to play so much better when the expectations around them are lower, how when it comes to the NHL postseason you just never know.
Now I know what Red meant when he said hope will drive a man insane. But in the end I'm still siding with Andy: Hope is a good thing. (I hope the Sabres can make the playoffs. I hope to see Tim Connolly carry this team all the way. I hope the Stanley Cup is as sweet as it has been in my dreams. I hope.) Anyone else feeling this way or am I all alone in my delusions?