The Buffalo Sabres are offering a reminder the NHL season is a marathon, not a sprint.
The Sabres were dismal for the better part of the season and chatter that a post-season purging of management — coach Lindy Ruff and general Darcy Regier, specifically — was in order when the team sat dead last in the Eastern Conference on Feb. 19.
Since then, the Sabres have caught fire and, should they ride the hot streak into the post-season, could find themselves as the team no one wants to meet in the playoffs.
When Buffalo routed the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Tuesday, the Sabres jumped into the eighth spot in the conference and improved their record since Feb. 19 to 14-2-3.
“It’s a lot different than if you would have talked to me a couple of months ago, but it didn’t change overnight,” Sabres captain Jason Pominville told NHL.com. “We had to build it, start getting confidence, start playing better hockey. I think we have. (Goaltender) Ryan (Miller) is playing tremendous for us. Our special teams are doing a better job. Everybody is getting on the scoreboard. It’s helping our overall game.”
It’s a bit of a repeat of last season, when the Sabres went 16-4-4 down the stretch to land the No. 7 seed in the conference playoffs.
Ducks will ice competitive lineup
Don’t look for the Anaheim Ducks to start playing out the string.
Despite coming to grips his team will miss the playoffs this year, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau won’t use the final six games as a tryout for next season.
“I think personally we have an obligation to every team in our conference to play the best that we can every night and to put the best lineup out every night,” Boudreau told the Orange County Register. “Would it be fair to L.A. if we all of a sudden put 12 call-ups in or whatever to play San Jose or go into Phoenix and start resting guys? Or go on the Canadian trip and rest guys while other teams have battled all year to get into that position?
“I don’t think it’s right. I wouldn’t want them to do it to us if we were in that situation.”
No press box for Sarich
Calgary Flames veteran Cory Sarich planned to monitor Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings on the dressing-room television.
Not up in the press box?
“I’m not a big fan of heights,” said Sarich, chuckling. “Walk across that catwalk up there? No thanks.”
Unavailable because of an upper-body injury, it’s the defenceman’s hope that he’ll be ready for Friday’s visit from the Colorado Avalanche.
“It felt really good,” Sarich said after Wednesday’s morning skate, “the best I’ve felt.”
Since being conked March 20 in Denver — he and Avalanche winger David Jones collided inadvertently in the neutral zone — Sarich has missed four contests.
He’s close to returning, but not yet tip-top.
“I thought I might to be ready for (Monday’s) game, but it wasn’t there,” said Sarich. “Things didn’t go very well. I felt good physically and I felt good mentally skating on my own, but once you introduce 20 other guys buzzing around (in practice) . . . I felt a little bit slowed down. It’s a hard thing to describe, but I knew I wasn’t right. And I’m not going to go out there and jeopardize our team. It’s big games right now.
“Following (concussion) protocol, I’m right where I need to be. I felt great (Wednesday) and, hopefully, that continues over the next couple days.”
Czech team might add Smid
It’s hard to believe that Ladislav Smid leads Edmonton Oilers defencemen with five goals.
That’s a personal best, even from his time in the minors when he was in the Anaheim Ducks organization before he was part of the Chris Pronger trade in 2006.
Smid’s shutdown play should get him a slot on the Czechs IIHF world championship team for the tournament in Stockholm and Helsinki.
Last year, he wasn’t 100 per cent, still trying to recover from neck surgery. Has he thought of the Olympics in Sochi in 2014?
“Sure, but there are lots of Czech defencemen in the NHL. (Marek) Zidlicky, (Zbynek) Michalek, (Jan) Hejda, (Michal) Rozsival, (Rusty) Klesla, (Roman) Polak, (Pavel) Kubina, (Andrej) Meszaros, (Jaroslav) Spacek, (Filip) Kuba, (Roman) Hamrlik,” he said.
Polak, Smid and Meszaros would be the younger players.
Doan set to return from suspension
With Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan set to return to the lineup on Thursday after serving a three-game suspension, it gave teammate Derek Morris a chance to reflect on how Doan can be such a nice guy off the ice, but still play with a mean streak.
“I remember playing against him when I was in Calgary and he was here,” Morris told the Arizona Republic. “You just knew every single check was going to be finished. Every single piece of his body was going to be thrown at you, and it was going to be heavy and hard, and it was going to hurt.
“You knew he was a nice guy, but I don’t think you know until you play with him how respectful he is of everybody else, and I don’t know how he turns the switch on and off like that.”
Devils have lost their edge
With less than two weeks to go before the playoffs begin, coach Peter DeBoer would like to see his New Jersey Devils peaking right about now. Instead he’s seeing the opposite.
“When I look at our play over the month I think there’s no doubt we’ve lost a little bit of our edge the last 10-14 days,” DeBoer told the Newark Star-Ledger. “We just have to find a way to get it back in the last week.”
Despite their so-so play, the Devils are secure in the Eastern Conference playoff race, eight points up on ninth-place Washington with five games to play.
“We’re going to try and eliminate all the factors that might contribute to (losing our edge),” DeBoer added, “other than the one where we have a cushion in the standings.”
Vokoun ready to go
After battling a groin muscle strain for a month, Washington Capitals goaltender Tomas Vokoun declared himself 100 per cent fit on the eve of Thursday night’s game against the hometown Boston Bruins.
“I’m available,” Vokoun told the Washington Post following an hour-long optional skate.
“You look at it where we are. It’s a lot riding on the season for me, too, so there’s nothing to save anything for. Whatever happens, happens. I play, I’m gonna try and help the team win the game. If it happens to be one game or two or 10, I can’t tell you now. There’s nothing to save it for, obviously. And I wouldn’t play if I couldn’t.’’
The Capitals, battling for a post-season berth, can choose between Vokoun, Michal Neuvirth or Braden Holtby in net.
“If I felt like I wouldn’t be 100 per cent out there I don’t want to hurt the guys playing at 90 per cent,” Vokoun added. “I feel like I can play 100 per cent and hopefully give a good game and win the game.”
Morrison trade little benefit for Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks thought they were receiving a quality second-line centre when they acquired veteran Brendan Morrison in a Jan. 27 trade with the Calgary Flames.
However, for the 18th time this season, the 36-year-old Morrison was a healthy scratch Tuesday night when the visiting Hawks fell 2-1 in a shootout to the New Jersey Devils.
In the nine games he has suited up with the Blackhawks, he has failed to register a point and is a minus-4.
“It’s no secret it hasn’t gone the way anybody’s wanted it, me especially,” Morrison told the Chicago Tribune. “The whole season has been a challenge.
“I still believe I can do the job. If I didn’t think that, I might as well hop on a plane tomorrow and go home.”
Burke among new Hall of Fame selection committee members
Toronto Maple Leafs president/general manager Brian Burke, longtime Montreal Canadiens beat writer Marc de Foy and New York Rangers European pro scout Anders Hedberg will join Scotty Bowman, David Branch and Mike Gartner on the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee.
Meanwhile, USA Hockey president Ron DeGregorio and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum were named to the organization’s board of directors.
He said it:
“I don’t care for it. Why is a backup quarterback having a news conference?” — New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise to the BerganRecord on Tim Tebow joining the New York Jets.
Buffalo Sabres defenceman Christian Ehrhoff is out indefinitely with a knee injury. . . . Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kris Letang will miss two games with a lower-body injury. . . . Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask hopes to return to practice next week. He’s been out since March 3 with a lower-body injury. . . . Injured Ottawa Senators goaltender Ben Bishop is hoping to be back skating this weekend and is optimistic he’ll see game action before the regular season ends. He suffered a lower-body injury on Saturday.
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Drew Stafford #21 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrates his third period goal with teammates Marcus Foligno #82, Tyler Ennis #63, Robyn Regehr #24, and Andrej Sekera #44 against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on March 27, 2012 in Washington, D.C.
Photograph by: Rob Carr, Getty Images