Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - The Buffalo Sabres find themselves back in the driver's seat when it comes to controlling their playoff destiny.
The Sabres played three games since Sunday, March 26 and posted a winning record for the first time in a few weeks of 2-0-1. They lost their only game of the week in a shootout to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday. Buffalo followed that by earning two convincing wins on back-to-back nights over the New York Rangers in overtime and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Given their recent success, along with help from elsewhere around the league, the Sabres' playoff hopes have been brought back to life.
As of Sunday evening, the Sabres are five points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, who control the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference with 86 points. They are also six points behind the New York Islanders, who control the top Wild Card spot with 87 points.
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Here are three observations from the last week of Sabres hockey:
1.) Offensive resurgence
The Sabres had been struggling to put the puck in the net consistently during their recent slump.
Buffalo scored 12 goals in just three games this week, and even had three goals in their shootout loss to the Canadiens. In recent losses, the team struggled to get anything going offensively against their opponents.
The Sabres had an even amount of scoring spread throughout their lineup over this stretch of games with great performances from the likes of Casey Mittelstadt, Dylan Cozens, JJ Peterka and Jack Quinn.
All four lines seemed to be creating great offensive opportunities whenever they possessed the puck, and it led to several dominating performances.
2.) Playing with purpose
Despite the slim playoff chances the Sabres posses, the team is finally realizing how close they really are to making the playoffs.
While it may be too little, too late for this season, this is an important building block for the young core that Buffalo could have for years to come. They seem more prepared for the important games against tough opponents, take control of the games that are against weaker opponents, and overall seem more collected on the ice.
The Sabres would most likely need to win their remaining seven games to make the playoffs. They seem like a team that is hungry and willing to do anything to win.
It will certainly be a wild finish to the season if the Sabres can stay on their current hot streak.
3.) Promising future
21-year-old netminder Devon Levi played in his first NHL game on Friday night, and earned his first NHL win over the Rangers. Levi stopped 31-of-33 shots faced in his debut with Buffalo, and came up big in moments that mattered for the team.
Levi isn't the only current Sabres player or prospect that has a bright future in the NHL. The Sabres are loaded with great prospects such as Matthew Savoie, Jiri Kulich and Ryan Johnson, along with young NHL stars like Tage Thompson, Cozens and Rasmus Dahlin.
Even though the team may fall short this year, with the current appearance of the prospects in the system, the Sabres could be a force to be reckoned with for years to come in the NHL.
Game of the week: Friday, March 31 - 3-2 overtime win vs. New York Rangers
This was a big game for Buffalo not only for potential playoff implications, but also for their young goaltender. This game was Levi's first start in the NHL, and the rookie goaltender impressed throughout the evening.
The Sabres limited the Rangers' chances early on, holding them to just 11 shots across the first two periods. Buffalo also added a pair of goals from Peterka in the first frame and Jordan Greenway in the middle stanza.
New York came roaring back in the second and third periods, though, with two goals of their own to tie the game.
After an action-packed third period, the two teams headed to a somewhat uneventful overtime. The Sabres only needed one shot on goal from Jeff Skinner, who ended the game with just under two minutes remaining in the extra frame.
Player of the week: Casey Mittelstadt
The former eighth overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft is quietly having the best season of his career. Mittelstadt has blown away his previous career high of 25 points by scoring 49 points in 75 games.
Mittelstadt recorded six points in just three games this week, and all six were assists. This is something that has been prevalent all year for the young center, as his game has transitioned to that of a phenomenal playmaker.
With 39 of his 49 points being assists, Mittelstadt has found a new calling in the set-up business, and has carved out a nice role for himself on this Sabres team after struggling for quite some time.
The week ahead:
The Sabres have only three games upcoming this week, two of which will be on the road and one at home.
Buffalo kicks off the week on Tuesday with an extremely important game that could make or break their playoff hopes against the Florida Panthers. They then travel to Detroit to take on the Red Wings on Thursday.
The Sabres close out the second-to-last week of the season on home ice against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon.