as published at SportsGrumblings.com
Hockey is defined as a sport - an athletic competition with participants in direct opposition to each other. This definition is incomplete, as incomplete as deriving the whys and hows of a game from the what of the simple final score. In hockey, the player is not only battling the opposition, they are battling themselves. No other sport turns as dramatically and drastically on a whim, a seemingly innocuous play, a bounce or whistle. And if "the tide" seems to be sweeping against you, in creeps a tendency to freeze - to overthink. And if you let your mind beat you, you will lose.
This Buffalo-Ottawa series has been a strange one, and one that is not fully told by looking at the final scores. Last week in a series preview I wrote:
…With a skilled and aggressive
Little could I know how right that would be, as an 0-16 powerplay through three games is the single-biggest reason for Buffalo being on the verge of yet another heartbreaking end to a season. Nobody on either side of the fence could have predicted either team being up 3-0 at this point in the series, yet here sits
Game 1: 5-2
Game 2: 4-3
Game 3: 1-0
I defy someone to find a game where a team - at any level of hockey - had so little ability to even approach setting up a simple power play. The Sabres tried dumping the puck in…tried carrying it in…there was no success with either method. Normally reliable players such as Chris Drury played with obvious distress (zero shots on the night). Tim Connolly – whose late-season return many thought would revive a dull
In the end it really must come down to the mental game. The talent is there, in abundance. Even the lowest-of-the-low of the hockey world can set up a power play more than once or twice in nearly 12 minutes of 5-on-4 play. Call it the heavy weight of national expectations, or the burden of a title-starved region who once again will be teased with the promise of ultimate glory - bring out every phantom excuse - some or all may apply.
But unlike last season, this year the Buffalo Sabres don't have an on-ice excuse. They're fully healthy. They're loaded. They had home-ice advantage after ending with the best record in the regular season. What they don't appear to have is confidence, and in the truly dynamic sport of hockey if you lose your confidence - especially to a team every bit as talented as yours - you will have lost everything.