BUFFALO, N.Y. – Sabres goalie Ryan Miller had a candid response when informed of Capitals forward Brooks Laich’s guarantee that Washington was going to make the playoffs.
“I don’t think he’s Mark Messier,” Miller said.
Miller, of course, was referring to Messier, the former Rangers captain, who famously guaranteed a win with New York trailing New Jersey 3-2 in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Messier then scored a hat trick in Game 6, and New York won the series in seven before going on to beat Vancouver in a seven-game Stanley Cup Final.
Laich made his “We’re making the playoffs” comment earlier Wednesday in an interview with Washington’s The Fan radio. Informed that it sounded like a guarantee, Laich responded with a half laugh but made no further comment.
And Miller went further in suggesting Laich’s remark might create a distraction among his Capitals’ teammates.
“Some guys don’t react well to that. Guys might tighten up,” Miller said. “Maybe their young goaltenders aren’t going to react well to a guaranteed victory by their veteran guy.”
Buckle up, folks, because the thrilling, topsy-turvy weeks long race between Washington and Buffalo to secure one of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spots is showing no signs of letting up in the closing days of the season.
The Sabres are suddenly back in the hunt after completing a frantic comeback by rallying from a pair of two-goal third period deficits in a 6-5 overtime win over Toronto on Tuesday. That pulled Buffalo even with Washington.
Both teams have two games left, with the Capitals holding the tiebreaker.
Southeast Division-leading Florida is also in the mix. The Panthers can clinch a playoff spot with one point in their final two games, including a showdown at Washington on Thursday.
The Sabres refuse to be counted out in having mounted a remarkable second-half surge in which they’ve gone 20-7-5 in their past 32.
It’s a run that added another thrilling chapter with their win over Toronto. Buffalo overcame a 3-0 first-period deficit and a pair of two-goal third-period deficits before Derek Roy sealed the win 3:29 into overtime in the Sabres home finale.
Now they turn their attention to closing the season with road games at Philadelphia on Thursday and Boston on Saturday.
“That’s a big win for us,” Roy said. “We’ve got to take that momentum from last night and bring it into tomorrow night’s game.”
Veteran defenceman Robyn Regehr never lost faith, even with the Sabres trailing 5-3 before Alexander Sulzer jammed in his own rebound with 5:03 left, and Jordan Leopold forced overtime 3:10 later by digging the puck out of a tangle of bodies during a wild scramble in front.
“I think that tying goal is kind of the stereotypical way that we approached that game,” Regehr said. “We had all those guys in there just digging away, just not stopping, and continuing on. And eventually the puck gets knocked in the net.”
The never-say-die approach has gotten the Sabres this far after they sat 10 points out of contention following a 7-2 loss at Philadelphia on Feb. 17.
Buffalo has a chance to join the 1994 New York Islanders in becoming the NHL’s second team to rally from a 10-point deficit in mid-February to make the playoffs. New York was 10 points back on Feb. 18 before surging to finish eighth.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff senses destiny could be on his team’s side.
“You would like it to be that way,” he said. “There’s a lot of good stories, and we’d like to have one of those written about us.”
Ruff recalled how the Philadelphia Flyers clinched a playoff spot on the final day of 2010 season and went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, which they lost to Chicago.
As for Laich’s guarantee, Ruff shrugged it off.
“Those are all predictions that you live with, you die with, you hope to motivate your team with,” he said. “He probably believes sincerely that they’re going to make it.”
Ruff also believes in Buffalo’s chances.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us. They’ve got theirs,” Ruff said. “Our thoughts are on making the playoffs, too.”
NOTES: After Ruff suggested on Monday that Tyler Myers (foot) had a chance to return this week, the Sabres coach is now saying the defenceman is out indefinitely, and will miss at least another week. … The line of Tyler Ennis (eight goals, 11 assists), Drew Stafford (seven and nine), and rookie Marcus Foligno (six and seven) has combined to score 21 of Buffalo’s 47 goals over the past 12 games.