When the Buffalo Sabres last won the Northeast Division title, they were Presidents' Trophy winners and favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Things didn't turn out so well in the 2006-07 season.
However, things look different as the postseason approaches. The Sabres look hungrier, grittier, and much more determined.
Yes, the team is still very young and has a lot of growing to do before it can be considered a perennial Cup favorite. Some critics say they don't have enough scoring depth. Some say the team is too small physically and will never make it out of the first round.
What this Buffalo team does have, however, is playoff experience.
Of that 2006-07 team, 13 Sabres are still playing in Buffalo. The core group has stayed together—Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy—and that experience is crucial come playoffs.
After the lockout, Buffalo was a ragtag group of young gunners who exceeded everyone's wildest expectations.
After weathering those storms, this team will be better acclimated to the pressures of playoff hockey. Leadership and experience are two virtues you see in every Stanley Cup winner.
Buffalo has both.
If Buffalo wants to hoist the Cup come June, past pressures must be dealt with and shrugged off. Nervous play in the postseason will get a team bumped early, so the Sabres need to stay calm and play their game.
Miller will be called upon to lead the troops. His stellar play in net, both for Buffalo and Team USA, must continue.
Another postseason leader is Mike Grier. Traded after the 2005-06 season, Grier was one of the best Buffalo forwards. He raises his game—sliding in front of every shot, playing solid defensively, and winning puck battles.
Others, like Roy and Pominville, need to continue their solid offensive play into the postseason. Both have been on the team since the lockout, and it was Pominville who scored the series-clinching OT goal in Ottawa.
For Buffalo to make a deep push this postseason, those that have been there before must use that experience to their advantage.
The core group has been to the Eastern Conference Finals. They know what to do and how to get there.
This postseason, they must push a little harder.