In an utterly wacky season, there's five games left and the Sabres are still alive


Staff member

Buffalo Sabres left winger Zach Benson (9) breaks his stick on a shot attempt at the Philadelphia Flyers' empty net during the third period.
Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

The Buffalo Sabres' playoff hopes are actually alive in Game 78 of the season. Wouldn't have given you a nickel for that one two weeks ago after that five-goal implosion in Edmonton.

But here we are. Five games to go, starting Sunday in Detroit. And they matter. Teams around them are imploding. Friday's 4-2 Buffalo win over Philadelphia dropped the Flyers to 0-4-2 in their last six heading into their game Saturday in Columbus. Washington is 0-4-1 in its last five. The Red Wings enter Sunday 1-3-2 in their last six.

The Sabres, meanwhile, are 4-2 in the last six and, oh, how they must want that ugly five-goal first period back in that March 27 stinker against Ottawa.

But props to the Blue and Gold for getting to this point and props to Don Granato for – finally – putting his timeout to good use and not taking it home. Airing his team out in the second period after Philadelphia got even at 1-1 had the desired effect. In a game where they were being outshot 23-5, the Sabres responded with seven of the next eight shots and two goals.

"A great timeout from the coaching staff to just kind of settle it down there," mighty mite Zach Benson said. "From that time on, I thought we started to take over the game and push the pace a lot more. The message was to compete, flat-out compete and get to work."

So many thoughts after Friday's affair and heading into Sunday. A trip through the notebook:

• Everyone was talking to Jack Quinn about his two goals, and for good reason, when I went over to Benson. He was laughing, and so was I, after the exploding stick that conspired to thwart his sure empty-net goal late in the game. Luckily, it didn't matter, and thus didn't land him on blooper films forever. I didn't even have to ask him a question, and he started talking.

"It was absurd, just absurd," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

By the way: Two more assists for Benson, who has full trust of the coaches a month away from age 19. We might spend years chuckling how he lasted to No. 13 in the draft in June.

• The Sabres need Jordan Greenway back Sunday. One reason is it will allow Granato to sit Victor Olofsson, who shouldn't see the ice again as long as this team is still alive. The horrific shift that caused Granato's timeout was caused by Olofsson's pair of lazy turnovers in his defensive zone.

• Granato on the players' reaction to the timeout: "They could be pushed. And I think they liked that. They want to be pushed."

• Philadelphia coach John Tortorella in the morning: "We need to be better in everything we do. We're taking on water here. If you're uptight about this, you're going down the wrong road. This is the fun part."

The SS Flyer has to feel desperate. They've been locked in to third in the Metropolitan Division for weeks, but may not even get a wild card at this point.

Tortorella took a flyer, pun intended, on 6-foot-7 rookie goalie Ivan Fedotov because Samuel Ersson has been struggling badly. You wonder if Tortorella should have come back with Ersson on Friday because he owned a 2-1 record in his career against the Sabres – with a 1.08 goals-against average and .949 save percentage. Fedotov was woefully out of his league. This isn't the KHL.

Buffalo Sabres player congratulate Jack Quinn (22) on his second goal of the game against the Philadelphia Flyers during the t
hird period at the KeyBank Center on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News) Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

• A major dent in the Sabres' playoff hopes? Loser points. Philadelphia, the Islanders, Detroit, Washington and Pittsburgh averaged 11 overtime or shootout loser points entering the weekend, led by the Isles' 15. The Sabres had just five. Too many regulation losses.

• I keep harping on the fact the Sabres were swept by woeful Anaheim as a major reason why they are on the outside looking in at the playoffs. You could go all the way back to Nov. 22, to that 4-3 overtime loss in Washington, as another major night.

The Sabres gave up a tying goal to Tom Wilson with 1:15 left in regulation and a winning goal to Dylan Strome with eight seconds left in OT. Instead of leaving town with two points and blanking the Capitals, Washington grabbed two points, and Buffalo got only one. That was a three-point turnaround in less than seven minutes of game play. What a difference that makes now.