Surging Sabres now lead the NHL

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When the Buffalo Sabres started gathering steam, the question was: “Can they finally make the playoffs?”

It might be time for the Sabres to set their sights much higher than merely breaking their postseason drought.

By beating the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout on Saturday, the Sabres squeezed out their ninth win in a row. That’s mind-blowing enough by itself, but consider this: the Sabres – yes, the Buffalo Sabres – now lead the NHL with 34 standings points.

Yes, it’s been a very, very long time since you could say that outside of one of EA’s NHL video games.

You can already picture cynics trying to punch holes in that, even if it’s an objective fact.

So, sure, there are some “yeah, but” opportunities. It’s true that six of Buffalo’s nine consecutive wins came after regulation, so there were plenty of situations where this run could have instead been downgraded to a not-as-fun “point streak.” Four of those six beyond-regulation victories came via shootouts.

Could the Sabres’ standings lead be a short-lived as Jeff Skinner‘s Maurice Richard edge, which dissolved as Patrik Laine tore his way to a five-goal night on Saturday? Absolutely. The Tampa Bay Lightning are at 33 points with one fewer game played than the Sabres, and the Nashville Predators are in the same boat (both have played 23 versus Buffalo’s 24). It says a lot about the Atlantic Division that the Toronto Maple Leafs are only two points behind, as well, with 32 points in 24 games played.

There’s a chance Buffalo slips to third in the Atlantic, and the Boston Bruins could easily push the Sabres lower if they get healthier.

All of that hand-waving shouldn’t derail the big smiles and hearty fist pumps in Buffalo. For Sabres fans who have been wading through long stretches of darkness, it’s absolutely appropriate to celebrate just like Jack Eichel did following his recent OT winner against the Penguins:

At minimum, it sure feels like the Sabres are a team you have to take seriously again. That’s something we haven’t seen often – if at all – since the days of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere.

This might be even prettier, although maybe those golden age memories are merely uglier because of the whole “Buffaslug” thing.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.