Nathan Gerbe played a big role in helping Buffalo secure its last playoff spot in 2011. ©2024, Dan Hickling

13 years ago today, the Buffalo Sabres clinched their last playoff spot

It feels like a lifetime ago. In reality, 13 years have passed since the Buffalo Sabres clinched their last playoff berth.

On April 8, 2011, the Sabres completed a stunning turnaround by defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 in overtime and securing a spot in the postseason.

Barely five months earlier, they had ranked dead last in the NHL.

Read about the Sabres’ wild win that night – they sat on the puck at the end of regulation to earn the one point they needed – and how much Terry Pegula’s purchase of the team that season impacted it down the stretch.

BUFFALO – Nathan Gerbe had already scored once, a wrist shot from the point that got by a screened goalie. That wasn’t a normal Gerbe goal, though. The diminutive winger is tenacious and slick, unafraid afraid to try risky plays. The rookie takes pride in his clutch exploits.

“The player I am, I want to be a game-changer,” Gerbe said after scoring twice, including the game-tying goal late in a rollicking 4-3 overtime triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers, a win that cemented an Eastern Conference playoff spot. “I want to make plays. That’s my goal, and I don’t want to stray from that.

“When it’s on the line, you want to get in,” he said. “So I’m going to take a chance.”

Gerbe took it with the Sabres down 3-2 halfway through an intense third period. As the Sabres fought furiously to secure the single point they needed to clinch, he stopped high in the right circle, pulled off a spin-o-rama flawlessly and backhanded the puck high.

At first, Gerbe couldn’t tell the puck got past Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at 10:03.

“I couldn’t see,” Gerbe said. “I didn’t know it was going in. I had a tough celebration there.”

It wasn’t the Sabres’ last celebration. During an odd final minute, as the capacity crowd of 18,690 fans inside HSBC Arena roared and waived towels frantically, both teams sat on the puck, doing little.

When the horn sounded, the Sabres, who ranked last overall with just eight points Nov. 4, officially completed their stunning turnaround by reaching overtime. They’re 27-11-6 since Jan. 1 and 15-4-4 since owner Terry Pegula assumed control Feb 22.

“It’s awesome,” Gerbe said. “Obviously, we didn’t get the start we wanted and a lot of people wrote us off as a team. Everyone joined together and we became stronger.”

Coach Lindy Ruff, who predicted the Sabres would make the playoffs at their lowest moment, looks like a genius.

“I had an incredible belief that we had lost a lot of games that we should have won,” Ruff said. “You guys don’t like to hear that and I don’t like to coach those games. … We just flat out made some really bad mistakes in games, and I told the team, ‘If we can get through this, it’ll make us a better team. We’ll learn to defend better and learn to eliminate those type of mistakes and we’ll be a better team.’”

Both teams got back to aggressive hockey in overtime.

“The last 30 seconds was a little bizarre,” said Sabres winger Thomas Vanek, who scored a nifty winner 1:16 into the extra session. “We’ll take it. I think in OT both teams said, ‘You know, let’s go for it.’”

Vanek certainly did, undressing a defender near the blue line, zooming in on a breakaway and backhanding the puck past Bobrovsky.

“He was going backwards and trying to pick up speed,” Vanek said. “I knew if I could get the puck somehow through him, I’d have a chance. It worked out good.”

The seventh-place Sabres (94 points) close the regular season tonight in Columbus. They can still beat out Montreal for sixth place.

One thought on “13 years ago today, the Buffalo Sabres clinched their last playoff spot”

  1. The Detroit game was a pathetic performace in a must-win game. Granato needs to be fired. Period. This is unacceptable. Maybe not to the Pegula’s though. They still tolerate McDermott’s ineptitude in big games. Trust the process, my a$$. This team is weak and soft. We constantly lose puck battles, wall battles and faceoffs. The only players on this team with any grit at all are Tuch, Dahlin, Greenway, Cozens, Girgs, Benson, Byram, and Clifton. Krebs isnt included. He’s just a underperforming pest to the other team. 90% of this babyface, soft team cant even grow a beard. Quinn, Jokijarhu, Bryson, and Power all earned F grades vs Detroit. Power needs to go. He’s so soft. He never hits or moves anyone. Trade him and his ridiculous contract. I don’t care how young he is. His DNA isnt going to change. Quit drafting Smurfs. Draft some bigger bodies. This team needs some muscle, talent and grit. You can make a strong argument for firing Adams too. Johnson, Kulich, Savoie need to be on the team next year. No more excuses !!!

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