Latest Sens Win Has Sabres Fans Overreacting

The playoffs are fast approaching, and Sabres Nation is frustrated because their team has lost every single game to its hated rival all season.  

The thought of facing them in the postseason evokes the same feelings as when trying to walk past the school bully without giving up their lunch money.   Bad memories still linger of the most recent playoff matchup that saw the Sabres on the short end of a five game series.

Get the picture, Buffalo?  As I'm sure you've figured out by now, I'm referring to the 2000-01 Sabres and their struggles against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The regular season series was an embarrassment.  We kept hearing about how great and unsolvable Flyers goaltender Roman Cechmanek was.  While losing all four games to Philly, the Sabres were only able to light the lamp twice.  When they finally met in the playoffs, Buffalo had that many goals in a crucial Game 6 by around the end of the national anthem.  Cechmanek was off to the showers and the Flyers were sent home for the summer with an 8-0 drubbing.

And now here are the Ottawa Senators, firmly entrenched as the most hated hockey team in Buffalo - the club whose mere mention sends an equal jolt of fear and angst through the hearts of Sabres fans. 

"You want to win in every game you play, especially against [Ottawa]," right wing Jason Pominville said. "We're not going to lie. It's not a team we like. ... To come up short at home is definitely disappointing."

But this is also the team, with many of the same stars, that dominated Buffalo during the '05-'06 season by allowing only one regulation loss in eight games - including an ugly and memorable 10-4 thrashing at HSBC Arena - before falling apart in the playoffs and losing to the Sabres in five games.

You can make your case about the relevance of regular season domination all you want, but it really doesn't matter. It's one of the biggest myths about playoff hockey, just as much of a fallacy as the one that says you need to have momentum and be on a roll going into the postseason.  History has proven time and time again that these beliefs, while generally accepted and seemingly logical on the surface, just aren't true. 

If anything was proven by Friday night's game, it was that there's no reason to think that the Sabres can't play with this team.  

A good effort with 43 shots on goal plus a possible late game-tying equalizer clanking off the goalpost really isn't a reason to be ashamed.  Yet a lot of people are pointing to this monkey on their backs as being responsible for Buffalo not being a championship caliber team.

In reality, the reason that the Sabres aren't true Stanley Cup contenders actually has nothing to do with Ottawa.  It has everything to do with Pittsburgh and Washington.  Those are the only two teams in the East that would be big favorites against Buffalo in a seven game series, and it's extremely unlikely that the Sabres would be able to make a deep run while avoiding both of them.

But in the meantime, is it really that improbable that Buffalo could beat Ottawa in the playoffs again?  Strangely, many folks vividly remember what happened four years ago but are discounting it.  They're also ignoring how important goaltending is in the playoffs. 

Ryan Miller is the best there is, and he has 34 games of playoff experience - which is 34 more than what Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire have.  Regular season success between the pipes early in your career doesn't mean a whole lot if you don't win the big games in April and beyond.

Don't take my word for it - just ask Cechmanek, who last we heard was tending duty for HC Ocelari Trinec in a league that isn't even one of the top two in Europe.  Elliott admittedly looks great for the Senators right now, but you never know where the pressure of playing real games in April and May can lead you.

Don't be afraid to face the bully, Buffalo.

Twitter: @DaveDavisHockey

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