Tonight in Buffalo, the Sabres will play their biggest game of the season. Lose to the Leafs and the club that took on millions and millions in payroll during the summer could fall seven points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
As it stands, the Sabres sit eight points back of seventh-place Toronto and five back of eighth-place Washington. The Capitals host the struggling Lightning tonight.
So where did it all go wrong for a team that many thought could compete for a Stanley Cup?
Ask Sabres owner Terry Pegula, the man who opened his enormous wallet to put this group together, and he points to one big factor — injuries.
“I have to believe we’re a better hockey team than we were last year,” Pegula told The Buffalo News yesterday evening. “We just didn’t have this massive, catastrophic injury problem. Put yourself in anybody’s place in the organization. How do you evaluate what’s going on?”
Speaking of last year, Buffalo’s record today (18-19-5) is the exact same as it was a year ago to this very day. And with a 3-2 win over Carolina at the First Niagara Center, the Sabres kicked off a remarkable 25-10-5 run and went on to clinch seventh spot in the East.
But let’s face it, that’s not likely to repeat itself.
Not that the Sabres are utterly incapable. It’s just, those things don’t happen very often. Otherwise they wouldn’t be remarkable. That’s how big a hole the Sabres are in. They’ll have to be “remarkable” to make the playoffs.
Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?
The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.
While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.
Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.
With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:
Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played
Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP
Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.
Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?
The Carolina Hurricanes fell short of a win on Monday, but their thoughts likely revolve around the health of goalie Eddie Lack instead.
Lack was taken off the ice on a stretcher after a collision during Andreas Athanasiou‘s game-winning goal in overtime. Officials reviewed that the goal counted, giving the Red Wings a 4-3 overtime victory against Carolina.
While it’s been a tough overall season for Hurricanes goalie, Lack has been an integral part of Carolina’s push for a postseason spot. PHT will keep an eye out for updates regarding his condition after this scary collision.
The Red Wings stayed on the ice as Lack was taken off, a nice gesture after an unfortunate accident.
Just when you think it’s time to count the Tampa Bay Lightning out, they rally back.
It’s been happening overall in 2016-17, and that pattern carried over into Monday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Lightning decided to put Andrei Vasilevskiy back in the net in the second period after he gave up three goals on eight shots in the opening frame … and at first, that looked like a mistake that would do them in. Chicago went up 4-1 and things looked dire.
But, again, the Bolts followed the script when it comes to flipping the script, with Jonathan Drouin triggering a resounding rally in the second.
Droun’s first goal came 11:45 into the second period, followed about a minute later by an Anton Stralman tally. Less than four minutes later, Drouin hit the 20-goal mark with the 4-4 marker on the power play.
First, check out Drouin’s first goal, which began the rally:
Next, witness the 4-4 goal, also by Drouin:
And … just like that, the Lightning tied things up. Wow.
Apparently Drouin created more offense than just his two goals, too:
Impressive. Remember when he seemed like he was out the door last season? Now that feels like another reminder not to give up on this group, no matter how ugly things look at times.
Video will be added when available.
By just about any measure, Monday’s been lousy to Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
He was pulled with a few minutes remaining in the first period after Chicago Blackhawks built a 3-1 lead, scoring those three goals on just eight shots on net.
You could summarize Vasilevskiy’s awful start by those numbers, or by how rare the 3-1 goal was for the scorer.
Tomas Jurco failed to score a goal or an assist in 16 games with the Red Wings, then went pointless in nine more games with Chicago before finally scoring his first goal of the season on Monday.
Now, Jon Cooper didn’t pull Vasilevskiy because Jurco scored that tally. Still, it rubs a little extra salt in his wounds all things considered.
Here’s the Jurco goal:
Patrick Kane‘s 2-1 goal might have hurt the most, actually, as it quickly dissolved a tying tally by Ondrej Palat:
Update: The Lightning decided to put Vasilevskiy back in net to begin the second period. Interesting.