Rasmus Dahlin thinks Buffalo has learned lessons this season. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Missing playoffs hasn’t shaken Rasmus Dahlin’s belief in Sabres: ‘We’re close’

BUFFALO – While the cold reality of missing the playoffs again has smacked the Sabres – “It sucks, honestly,” defenseman Rasmus Dahlin said – they haven’t lost belief they can end an NHL-record 13-year drought.

“I want the Buffalo Sabres in the playoffs, and I’m never going to give up, and I think we’re close,” Dahlin said prior to Thursday’s 4-2 win over the Washington Capitals in the home finale at KeyBank Center. “I think we are a really good team. I think we’re the youngest team in the league, so, well, it sucked that we didn’t get in, but we have learned so many things from this year that we have to bring into next year and get better.”

What gives Dahlin faith in this group?

“You see the games, it’s not like we get (blown out) every game,” he said. “We’re in every game. It’s a close game pretty much every game, and we just haven’t really found the consistent and the day-to-day stuff. We’re really, really good at times, and (at) times not really, really good. And special teams and stuff like that, we got to find a lot of things.”

The Sabres began Thursday’s game with an 11-11-5 record in one-goal contests. They had a 37-37-5 mark overall, with 31 of their victories coming in regulation or overtime. Meanwhile, the Capitals, who began the night in the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot, had a 37-30-11 mark.

The Capitals’ six-point lead on the Sabres could be traced to their 11 overtime or shootout losses. Six extra “loser” points accounted for the margin.

The Sabres’ underwhelming campaign has raised questions about coach Don Granato’s future. His work rebuilding the Sabres into one of the NHL’s up-and-coming young teams earned him a contract extension prior to last season that kicks in next year.

Granato just wants to stay in the moment.

“When I was here as the interim coach (2020-21), I took it upon myself to say, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be the next coach. Coach the right way,’” he said. “… You’re in these positions, you have to stay very focused on what you do every day.”

Granato said he views the expectations the Sabres had this season as a “privilege.”

“This is all natural,” he said. “This is all something we have to go through to get to the next level is this. You perform to a certain level, you raise expectations. So for me, I’m happy we’re here. This is great. That means we did some really good work.

“Look at where we were two years ago. This is the territory, and it comes down to winning more hockey games.”

Defenseman Bowen Byram missed Thursday’s game for personal reasons, according to the Sabres. Granato said Byram will meet the team in Florida, where the Sabres close the season with games Saturday afternoon against the Panthers and Monday versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Kale Clague, a healthy scratch the last 14 games, moved into Byram’s spot at left defense alongside Henri Jokiharju. Center Peyton Krebs took Byram’s place on the second power-play unit.

The Sabres also scratched wingers Victor Olofsson and Eric Robinson (both healthy).

Winger Alex Tuch on Thursday was named the 2023-24 winner of the Rick Martin Memorial Award, given to the Sabres player who “best demonstrates on-ice excellence, resiliency, and dedication to the community.”

The winner is chosen through a fan vote.

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