For the first time in what seems like forever, the Buffalo Sabres are playing meaningful hockey games in April.
Thanks to a 3-2 shootout win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Monday Night, April 10th, the Sabres are now 40-32-7 for 87 points, which currently (Tuesday, April 11th) has them three points out of the second wild-card spot that the New York Islanders are holding. Yes, the team still has a lot of work to do and needs help along the way if they want to get into the Stanley Cup playoffs, but at least they are still playing for something at this time of the season.
One Sabre who is showing that he can handle the pressure is goaltender Devon Levi. Levi, 21, who won the Mike Richter Award last week as the best goaltender in college hockey for the second straight season, was brilliant against the Blueshirts on Monday night as he stopped 26 of 28 shots and added four more saves in the shootout.
In what was a big game for the Sabres, Levi showed he could handle the pressure of playing in a crucial game at the World’s Most Famous Arena. He made several big saves to keep the game tied late in the third period and was outstanding in the shootout.
With the victory, Levi is currently 4-1 with a 2.89 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage in his first five NHL games. That is not bad for someone that has not even played in the American Hockey League.
There are a few reasons why what Levi has accomplished so far has been impressive. For starters, he was put right into the fire by the club.
When he played in his first-ever NHL game on Friday, March 31st, at home against the Rangers, it was already a big game for the Sabres. He joined the team at a time when they are fighting for a playoff spot and needing points in the worst way.
Normally, the Sabres are not in this kind of position come April. They are usually just playing out the season and focusing on next year.
Instead, they are focused on making the playoffs. Sabres head coach Don Granato did not hesitate to throw Levi between the pipes to see if he could help this team sooner rather than later.
Speaking of helping the team, it is impressive that Levi has won four of his first five games. While one of his wins was against the Detroit Red Wings, he did beat two elite teams as he won against the Rangers (twice) and the Carolina Hurricanes.
For the Sabres, winning is all that matters right now. If Levi is winning games like this, there is no reason to not keep playing him.
Lastly, he is showing the franchise that he might be ready to be their starting goaltender sooner rather than later. Yes, it certainly would not hurt him if he started next season down in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans, but given what he has shown already, he might just be the guy the Sabres go with next season.
Whether or not the Sabres make the playoffs this season, at least they got to see their prized prospect show what he can do on the big stage and see that he could be more than just their goaltender of the future.