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By Robin Milbrand

The Buffalo Sabres have had an up-and-down season. They changed owners in the middle of the year and lost perhaps their best player: Derek Roy, out for the season with a knee injury.

The Sabres are ninth in the league in goals scored, seventeenth in goals against, and their best hope is to get a sixth, seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Despite all that mediocrity, I still believe that the Sabres have a chance to be a playoff spoiler. They have one of the league's best goaltenders in Ryan Miller and a nice collection of young defensemen. A goal scorer such as Thomas Vanek could get hot and carry the team offensively.

NHL Hockey, unlike NBA Basketball, doesn't have a lot of difference in quality between the high and low seeds in the playoffs. The President's Cup is given to the team with the best record in the regular season. The President's Cup winner is not a shoo-in to get into the Stanley Cup Final, much less win it.

The "President's Cup Curse" became famous because of the low number of teams with the best record reaching the finals in the last eight years.

In the last eight years of Stanley Cup Finals, only the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 won the Stanley Cup and the President's Cup in the same year.

If the Buffalo Sabres can draw penalties, work a successful power play, perform well shorthanded and get hot goal tending, it won't matter where they finished in the regular season.

Despite all that Sabres hype, my prediction for the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion is the Washington Capitals, mainly because they have the league's best player: Alex Ovechkin.

March 13, 2011, was a sad day for Buffalo Sabres fans, as they mourned the passing of the greatest left winger in their history: Rick Martin. Rick was the first Sabre to score 50 goals in a season and was a member of the famous "French Connection Line" that got to the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals.

For the rest of the regular season and playoffs, as a tribute to Martin, two large sevens are painted on the ice behind both nets between the nets and boards.

Growing up a Sabres fan, my friends and I joked that Rick Martin had only one move (Gilbert Perreault spoiled us). When rushing the net, Martin would frequently try to slip the puck between the defenseman's legs, and being the good skater he was, collected the puck behind him and put a hard wrist shot on the net. It wasn't always successful, but it was good enough to produce 382 goals as a Sabre in his career.

He had one of the greatest pair of hands around the net in Sabres history, if not the greatest. I once had the pleasure of meeting Rick Martin, after his retirement, at one of his favorite watering holes in Clarence, and found him to be as fun to watch off the ice as on.

We'll miss you, Rick. You were a real gentleman.

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate Terry Pegula on his purchase of the Buffalo Sabres and wish him and the team the best of luck in the playoffs, but as the famous pool hustler Minnesota Fats once said, "Luck is for suckers."

Go, Sabres!

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com April 12, 2011