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Sabres Are Champions – How Sweet It Is!

There were horns honking outside in the warm Buffalo spring night. Jubilation in the arena. The players assembling at center ice and giving a salute to their adoring fans following the game.

At HSBC Arena, the Buffalo Sabres dispatched the New York Rangers 5-2, to claim the Northeast Division title, only the sixth such distinction in franchise history.

This game was not without its epic moments. Drew Stafford’s end to end rush and a goal in the first period brought an end to his scoring drought. Again, the Sabres surrendered the first goal of the game yet managed to recover. Tyler Ennis made the statement that he deserves a spot on the playoff roster, providing a goal and two assists. His third period goal to give the Sabres a 5-2 cushion put an exclamation point on the evening, giving the fans a chance to exhale and begin the celebration.

But the most incredible point in the game occurred about halfway through the second period. The Sabres shaky defense again surrendered the puck, resulting in a four on one, yes, a four on one convergence on the Buffalo net with only Henrik Tallinder to defend.

Miller had his sights square on Brandon Dubinsky, who at the last second slid the puck over to Martin Gaborik. Gaborik’s shot was somehow deflected high into the netting above the glass, and the Sabres continued to cling to their 3-2 lead. Miller earned a thunderous standing ovation for his highlight reel save.

From there, the Sabres took control of the game. Rangers’ starter Henrik Lundqvist was pulled in favor of Alex Auld, obviously Coach John Tortorella saving his starter for their crucial game tonight against Toronto. No matter. Toni Lydman then scored Buffalo’s fourth goal, and Lydman’s fourth of the season. It would be all they would need to cement this win.

One could feel the excitement and electricity throughout the locker room and surrounding corridors, yet one of the players beaming the most was rookie Tyler Ennis, who is competing with The Other Tyler to win over the hearts of Buffalo fans, adoration of the ladies and more than a few man crushes around the town. Ennis has no idea if he will be on the postseason roster. “I am taking this all one game at a time I’m just trying to help the team win,” said Ennis. As for all the fan support, Ennis replied, “That’s good to hear. I just love being here. But I’m just having a lot of fun, and if they can tell I’m having fun and I’m working hard I’m sure the fans can appreciate that.”

There are still a few games left to be played. The Sabres will play three games on the road, against Boston, Ottawa and New Jersey. The team still has a shot to reach second seed in the conference, although that would require them to continue to pile up points and hope that both Pittsburgh and New Jersey falter in some of their remaining games. So while the Sabres will be playing hard, they are assured of no less than 3rd seed in the standings.

Yet Jason Pominville is looking forward to one game this weekend, and that is at Ottawa this Saturday. The team has failed to beat the Senators in five attempts this season. Because of the way the standings are shaping up, the Sabres and Senators can not meet in the first round, and it is unlikely that the two teams will face each other unless both make it to the Conference Finals. “I don’t think we like them, and I don’t think they like us either. But we want to enter the playoffs feeling good about ourselves, and the best way to do that is to win games. I think our approach will be the same.”

Should the Sabres lock into the 3rd seed, they will face the 6th seed in the conference, and right now that is the Montreal Canadiens. But Philadelphia and Boston both are nipping at Montreal’s heels, and the Rangers are mathematically alive for the 6th spot as well. There will be plenty of scoreboard watching in the next few days, and come Sunday night Buffalo will know who the opponent will be and the schedule for the first round will be set, with home dates for games 1 and 2 expected to take place either next Wednesday and Friday or next Thursday and Saturday.

But for now, just a muted celebration. No plastic covering the locker stalls, no champagne showers and silly behavior. Just a steely resolve that there remains work to be done, and a happy coach Lindy Ruff, donning the division championship cap before the press, and stating, “After the past couple years, to come back and win the division is a big step on the way for us. We knew we were close last year. Our personnel made a difference for us. A lot of the talent on this team is home grown, and sometimes patience is the best thing.”