Next Chapter: Never Say Die

There has been a lot of negativity thrown around in regard to the Buffalo Sabres. Poorly managed expectations led to widespread disappointment, and thanks to social media, this disappointment is right in everyone’s faces. Whether we like it or not, we’re all standing, drenched in your disillusionment, but I’m here to tell you: (1) The Sabres are not going to make the playoffs; and (2) That’s REALLY ok.

People scoffed at the “Next Chapter” moniker the Sabres glossed themselves with this season, and given their record to this point, any misinformed casual fan might think it’s been business as usual at the FNC, but the truth is that this is a whole new Sabres team – the page has truly turned. We are witnessing the next chapter.

The title of this chapter could easily be ‘Never Say Die.’ Buffalo’s play – even with a less-than-stellar record – generally has a distinct urgency to it, which is something that was sorely missed in the most recent Nolan Era. The Sabres have become a team that can easily flip a switch – they can go down by two goals and fans aren’t reaching for the remote to see what’s happening on The Bachelor. They’re staying tuned in to see if it will be Eichel or O’Reilly who will spark the comeback. They’re staying tuned to see if a big hit will turn the tides. Fans are staying tuned because Buffalo is never out of a game.

The Sabres aren’t just picking off bottom-feeders, either. After losing five in a row to some pretty hefty competition, Buffalo has won four of their last five. These victories include the fifth place Minnesota Wild, the first place Washington Capitals, and the red-hot Arizona Coyotes.

Each of these wins was impressive for different reasons. The win in Washington not only avenged a 5-2 loss from a few weeks ago, it was also the first time in 23 games that Caps netminder Braden Holtby had lost a start – a win streak dating back to November 10th. The win in Winnipeg was a great team win. Sam Reinhart scored his first career hat trick, and Evander Kane shrugged off all of the mockery thrown his way to set Reinhart up for the empty net goal, which completed his hat trick. The win in Minnesota had Buffalo coming out hot, scoring three goals in the first. And then there was the win in Arizona.

A lot of passionate discourse has taken place following this win. As the final horn sounded, the ‘Yotes Antione Vermette gave Ristolainen a little extra shove, and got one back. While nothing got started immediately, an old school line brawl ensued – or, at least as close as it gets these days. Vermette, Risto, Bogosian, Shane Doan, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Anthony Duclair all received game misconduct penalties for their individual efforts in the war of attrition. The absolute best part, though, was the look on Zach Bogosian’s face as the scrum dissipated, and the look on the Sabres’ faces as they went back to the locker room.

The smiles, the passion, and the pack mentality have all been missing from Buffalo for the last few seasons. The next chapter Sabres don’t take kindly to an extra shove. The next chapter Sabres won’t hang their head when they go down by a couple of goals. Most importantly of all, though, the next chapter Sabres are a team. They win as one and they lose as one – whether it’s a game, a battle, a power play, or a good ol’ postgame throwdown, these Sabres are coming strong, and they’re having a blast doing it.

Remember the purgatory of last January? The Sabres not only lost every game, they failed to gain a single point. Not one. The beginning of the month was ugly, for sure, but these Never Say Die Sabres weren’t giving up. They’ve climbed out of their downward spiral and they’re taking down giants in order to do it. The Sabres are having fun. It’s about damned time we had some fun, too.

Erik Wollschlager