The Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League (NHL) was wide-open this year. Every team was fiercely competitive with impressive records and point totals. Unlike the NBA where teams six games under .500 can clinch final playoff spots, the Eastern Conference’s one and eight seeds were separated by only 14 points, with the New York Rangers clinching the final spot last night.
Given this level of competition, the final three playoff spots weren’t locked until the final week of the season. The Carolina Hurricanes were nipping at the heels of Buffalo and New York up until the final days of the season, as they finished just two behind the Rangers with 91 total points.
The Sabres amassed 96 total points, and clinched their playoff spot with a thrilling, come from behind overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers April 9th in Buffalo. Nathan Gerbe netted two goals for the Sabres, including a spinning, circus-shot that tied the game in the third period. Thomas Vanek scored the winning goal a little over a minute into the overtime period, giving the Sabres a 4-3 victory and catapulting them into the playoffs. Interestingly, the Sabres square off against the second-seeded Flyers in the first round.
NHL Eastern Conference First Round Matchups:
1 Washington VS. 8 NY Rangers, 2 Philadelphia VS 7 Buffalo, 3 Boston VS. 6 Montreal, and 4 Pittsburgh VS 5 Tampa Bay.