Maybe, just maybe, the Sabres finally get it.
There wasn’t a lot of hooting and hollering after Saturday’s 4-0 shutout of Ottawa. There certainly could have been. It was a needed victory against a division opponent, a win filled with solid goaltending, balanced scoring and acts of camaraderie.
But after it ended, Buffalo’s players paused and said it doesn’t mean much if they don’t do it next game.
“We kind of had a talk after,” defenseman Jake McCabe said in KeyBank Center. “We’ll have these couple of good games, and then we’ll go away from what makes us successful for a couple games. At this point in the season, we cannot have that."
A brutal loss to end January coupled with the prospect of 11 games in 18 days seems to have made Buffalo realize a few things. The first is it can’t have repeats of the 5-2 loss in Montreal. The second is the season is far from over.
“We got outplayed in Montreal, just dominated, and that was kind of a spark for us to come back and start working hard again,” center Ryan O’Reilly said. “We used that to fuel us, and we’ve got to keep that mindset of every time we come to the rink we’re” angry “and we want to be better, we’re not satisfied.
“When we do that, we find ways to win games. That will get us back to where we want to be, and that’s in the playoffs.”
During the Sabres’ season-long bouts of inconsistency, the playoffs seemed like a pipe dream. Now? Not so much.
There are 31 games left, and 10 are against Atlantic Division foes. So in nearly one-third of the games, Buffalo can make up ground. Third-place Boston is six points up with four extra games played, though the Sabres still have to chase down Toronto, Florida and Detroit.
They play the Maple Leafs three times, Florida and Tampa Bay twice, and Detroit, Ottawa and Montreal once.
“You look at our conference, it’s crazy,” said Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner, who put up a 37-save shutout. “There’s 30 games left, and there’s a lot that can happen. It’s not like it’s 15, 20 points down.
“We need to get more consistent, and that’s every period. We believe in each other, but we also recognize our flaws right now. One, two big wins, then going two losses, it’s not going to cut it if we want to make a push.”
The first thing Lehner said in response to the victory was, “Yeah, but …”
“It’s a big win for us and it’s a good two points, but there’s still things we need to work on,” he said. “We want to be a better team. We want to be a more consistent team.”
As Lehner said, that’s a period-to-period challenge. Buffalo had a great first and a good third. The Senators had their way in the second – a big reason they finished the game with a six-minute edge in zone time – but Lehner shut the door and O’Reilly provided a late goal.
“We want to get to our best,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “We want to get to where we’re a good team every night. Whether we win or lose, we’ve got to learn what we can get better from and get better at.”
There will be a lot of chances to learn lessons. Starting with Monday’s game in New Jersey, the Sabres’ run to their bye week features nine games in 14 days. Six of those are at home, where Buffalo is on a 5-0-1 run.
Maybe, just maybe, they realize their time is now.
“It’s a tight race in the East now in general, and we need to keep putting teams behind us and chase the teams in front of us,” McCabe said. “It’s an exciting month for us to really show the league what we’re capable of.”