For Buffalo Sabres fans, it has been a never-ending, nightmarish, mind-numbing season. For pro-tankers, tonight was a chance for the team to clinch last-place in the NHL, and lay claim to their prize of McEichel. The Sabres players themselves, well, they had other plans.
Mikhail Grigorenko continued to display progress in his development, as he potted the first goal of the game to make it 1-0 just five minutes into the first period. After a nice feed from Brian Gionta, Grigorenko fired a puck with eyes past Carolina Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward.
Later in the period, Gionta made a brilliant steal along the wall in the neutral zone, and raced up the ice. Using Marcus Foligno as a decoy, he rifled a perfect shot inside the near post for a 2-0 Sabres lead. The goal was his 12th of the season, matching his jersey number.
Only one minute into the second stanza, fans of the tank felt their stomachs turn when Johan Larsson accepted a beautiful pass across the slot from Tyler Ennis, and promptly deposited the biscuit beyond Ward. The 3-0 lead at that point seemed as if it would be insurmountable for a 'Canes roster heavily devoid of scoring prowess. Along with the assist he picked up with the fourth Sabres goal, Larsson now has 13 points in his last 15 games. His play recently has been eye-opening; a prominent role on next year's squad is now all but solidified for the 22-year old Larsson. Jason Pominville who?
Late in the second period, Patrick Dwyer pulled off some bootleg Mario Lemieux-like moves on Nikita Zadorov and Cody Hodgson to make it a 4-1 affair, providing a slight glimmer to pro-tankers, but likely not fooling the most pessimistic of Buffalo fans.
Early in the third period, Alexander Semin made it slightly more interesting, getting Carolina within two with a nifty goal. Things then got VERY interesting when Carolina pulled Ward with 6 minutes still left in the game, and my least favorite 'Cane, Eric Staal, scored just few dozen seconds later, making it 4-3. The game concluded with various half-hearted flurries, erratic bouncing pucks, and aimless swatting sticks from the Hurricanes, as Buffalo held on for the win.
The final stats showed some interesting figures: Carolina finished with 52 shots on goal; more than doubling Buffalo's 25. The Sabres blocked an additional 18 shots. The Hurricanes won a whopping 44 of 63 faceoffs. Lastly, the teams combined for a measly 16 hits - this, despite the Sabres featuring players such as Zach Bogosian, Zadorov, Nic Deslauriers, Marcus Foligno, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Pat Kaleta! Congrats to Anders Lindback on collecting a ridiculous amount of saves.
So, until Friday, we wait. The fate of the Buffalo Sabres future (and my brain and liver) will have to hang in the balance until then, when Buffalo takes on the Columbus Blue Jackets in the next-to-last game of the season. Visions of Connor McDavid in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform will continue haunting my nightmares for another 12 days.