BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Sabres secured four out of a possible six standings points on their last West coast road trip of the season, and return to KeyBank Center for Tuesday night’s game against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs in better playoff position than when they left home.
With a winning record in late February for the first time since Buffalo’s last playoff run in 2011, the Sabres have a chance to end the NHL’s longest postseason drought in history after 11 years.
But how good are those chances? It depends on your viewpoint of the standings, the difficulty of the remaining schedule, and how opportunistic the Sabres might be in postseason pursuit with the youngest lineup in the NHL.
Buffalo (28-22-4) enters the final third of the season with 60 points, four behind Florida for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings — but with several games in hand. Buffalo also is contending with the New York Islanders (65 points in 60 games), Pittsburgh (63 in 56), Washington (62 in 58) and Detroit (60 in 55) for one of the two wild-card berths. The Sabres have played 54 games, and their point percentage (.556) ranks eighth in the conference.
Projection systems, simulating the remainder of the season thousands of times, gauge the Sabres’ playoff probabilities between and 40% (hockey-reference.com) and 45% (MoneyPuck.com) before Tuesday’s game. A win against the Maple Leafs would push the Sabres’ playoff odds over 50%, according to MoneyPuck.
The Sabres themselves desire to end the drought sooner than later.
“We want to make the playoffs now,” said third-year center Dylan Cozens, who recently signed a long-term contract extension. “We want to make the playoffs this year.”
While positioning themselves to be perennial Stanley Cup contenders as the young core matures, the Sabres could accelerate their playoff push with an aggressive move before the March 3 trade deadline.
But general manager Kevyn Adams said following the All-Star break that the Sabres won’t compromise their future dividends for short-term profit in the standings.
“The reason I believe in that so much is because we want to set this organization up for sustainable success year after year, giving yourself a chance to be there,” Adams said. “You get in and anything can happen, but you have to have that sustainable success year after year to give yourself a shot. So it’s all stuff we’ll balance and talk about. I’m proud of the position that our players have put themselves in through their work and their commitment and their care, and now we’ll do everything we can inside a room to help them.”
Seven remaining games against other teams in the playoff race will be crucial in the push to bring playoff hockey back to Buffalo: at Florida on Friday, vs. Washington on Sunday, at New York Islanders on March 7, at Washington on March 15, at New York Islanders on March 25, at Florida on April 4, and at Detroit on April 6.
“I really believe the talent we have in our room is real and if we get better every day, we’ll put ourselves in a position to have that opportunity,” Adams said. “What we don’t want to do is compromise on the vision … because I do think you can get away from the sustainable long-term success that we’re trying to build if you make emotional decisions or you do something trying to just squeeze a few extra points right now.”
Better performance on home ice also will benefit Buffalo’s postseason outlook. The Sabres’ 11-14-2 home record ranks 21st in the NHL, and they are the only team in playoff contention with a losing record at home. Away from KeyBank Center, the Sabres are 15-7-2, the 10th-best road record in the NHL. Of the remaining 31 games, 14 are in Buffalo.
“We have to stick to it and … completely believe in our guys in the room,” Adams said. “They’ve earned the right to be in this battle now and now let’s go have fun with it.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.