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October 2, 2009 - Matt Spielman
(Yes, the blog title has changed again, to reflect the current roster)
Considering I have no real basis for my NHL 2009-10 season preview, I decided to let my XBox 360 do the talking. One simluated season, controlling the Sabres, to decide it all. I'm not fancy, simulating 1,000 times and taking the most likely occurences. I swear this was just one simulation, despite what the results might say.
In the end it was the Calgary Flames beating your Buffalo Sabres, 4-1, in the Stanley Cup finals, scoring with 4.3 seconds left to win Game 5 and the Cup with a 3-2 win. But how it all came together is what this blog is all about.
I put together the Sabres current roster, having to add Tyler Myers because he is not on the game. I gave Myers the nine-game tryout that the Sabres will put him through and he shined. The 6-8 defenseman had two goals with four assists and was a +5 as the team was 7-1-1. No way I was sending him down.
Buffalo lost 4 out of 5, including a loss to the lowly Islanders, before putting together a stretch of nine wins in 11 games to move to 18-8-1. After 45 games, Buffalo was 27-16-2, which included another stretch of six losses in seven games around the New Year. The Sabres went into the Olympic break losing six of eight games and sat fifth in the Eastern Conference.
After the break, I traded Henrik Tallinder for hometown favorite Todd Marchant at the trade deadline and a few days later Buffalo responded as Ryan Miller returned to his hometown of Detroit, posting a 4-1 win over the defending Stanley Cup finalists. Miller played through a strained hamstring at the end of the season, but was healthy enough to open the playoffs in the crease.
Buffalo and Pittsburgh played pretty even through six games in the first round before the Sabres took Game 7 with a 3-0 shutout. In the second round, Buffalo knocked off No. 1 seed Toronto, 4-1, with an overtime winner from Jochen Hecht in Game 5. The Sabres came out flying after six days off to beat Atlanta, 6-3, in the first game of the conference finals. Atlanta won the next two games before Buffalo came back with three straight wins to claim the Prince of Wales trophy.
Calgary took Game 1 of the finals on home ice, but the Sabres responded with an 8-1 beating in Game 2 to even the series. Buffalo looked like it would take control of the series as it took a 3-1 lead in the third period of Game 3, but the Flames responded with three straight goals to take a series lead they would never give up. Buffalo held another 2-0 lead in Game 4 before Calgary responded with four straight goals. Despite blowing a 2-0 lead in Game 5, the Flames regrouped and with 4.3 seconds left, found the back of the net for all the glory. Goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff was the Conn Smythe winner.
So keep your heads up Sabres fans, things are looking good as we enter the season. 19-year-old Tyler Myers is reason for excitement and the big IF once again concerns Tim Connolly. As the men on WGR said today, if Connolly is healthy, he is one of the biggest offseason pickups any team can have. Buffalo can't afford injuries, but with Miller and Vanek staying on the ice, there is no reason this simulation can't come true. For a complete recap of the simulated season, read on. If you don't want to, enjoy the opener Saturday night.
Art Ross: Rick Nash
Rick Nash and Ilya Kovalchuk each had 53 goals. Nash had 114 points, Umberger 112, Olli Jokinen 101 points, Marian Gaborik 101 points, Jason Blake 100.
Sabres regular-season statistics
Miller 35-28 2.50 GAA, 91.5%, 3 SO
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Here is the Calgary Flames game-winning goal with 4.3 seconds left in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.