A REALISTIC LOOK AT THE PLAYOFF HOPES FOR THE SABRES

The Buffalo Sabres ended a four-game losing streak Thursday night with a timely and much-needed home victory over the lousy Phoenix Coyotes.

 Can the Sabres avoid missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for a sixth straight season?

The top three teams in the Eastern Conference’s two divisions plus two wild-card teams (next-best rtecords) will make the playoffs.

Buffalo currently ranks seventh in the eight-team Atlantic Division. The Sabres have 65 points in the standings, 7 fewer than third-place Boston.  Two negatives: Buffalo must climb over Toronto, Florida and Tampa Bay in addition to catching and topping Boston…and the Sabres have 18 games remaining (9 home and 9 away)  in in the regular season,  2 fewer than Tampa Bay and 1 fewer than Toronto and Florida.

Buffalo ranks 13th in the 16-team Eastern Conference standings, 5 points behind eighth-place Toronto/NY Islanders.

The bottom line: The odds are against Buffalo making the playoffs. The Sabres badly need wins in regulation – not wins in OT or shootouts. A four- or five-game winning streak would be huge but seems improbable.

I’m pretty sure the Sabres will be making the playoffs before the Bills do – just not quite yet.

A TOUGH WEEK FOR MY TWO FAVORITE TEAMS

I’ve been pretty good about not rooting for pro sports teams. I’ve tried to be fair-minded and unbiased. But as I’ve aged, I’ve made a few exceptions. I like to see good things happen to the Golden State Warriors and to the Boston Red Sox.

I’ve had a tough week. I feel like I’m being punished by the sports gods for having favorite teams.

We don’t know the severity of Golden State stat Kevin Durant’s knee injury, but it doesn’t sound good. He’ll miss the next four weeks and then have another examination. Best-case scenario: He’ll be healthy for the end of the regular season and the playoffs. If he can play, who knows how effective he’d be. Worst-case scenario: He’ll be sidelined for the rest of the season – including the playoffs.

With a healthy Durant, I believe the Warriors would beat the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers in a maximum of six games for the 2017 NBA championship. Without Durant, I don’t think the Warriors could beat San Antonio in the Western Conference finals.

Thursday’s bad news is that Boston’s David Price will get a second opinion on his sore pitching elbow. That doesn’t sound good. He’s entering the second season of a seven-year, $217-million contract. I hate long-term guaranteed contracts to pitchers – even when my favorite team gets burned.

The Red Sox are a solid team. But minus David Ortiz’s bat and David Price’s left arm, I believe they’d be hard-pressed to earn an American League wild-card berth.

MORE REASONS WHY THE PATRIOTS RULE THE AFC EAST

ESPN produced two interesting “NFL ratings” this week that help explain why the New England Patriots have ruled the AFC East for so long.

“How active will every NFL team be in 2017 Free Agency?” Only five NFL teams were in the top “aggressive” category – Jacksonville, New England, New Orleans, San Francisco and Washington. The other three categories were “active but not breaking the bank (18 teams)…“not as active as fans might hope” (8 teams)…and “standing pat” (the only team in the bottom category is Buffalo).

“Salary cap flexibility for all 32 teams.” Only five teams received a grade of A+, including New England: Not fair. Young roster and loaded with salary-cap space ($62.3 million.”

SHORT SHOTS

Encouraging note for those who believe former Ole Miss star Chad Kelly should be drafted by the Buffalo Bills and that he could be the team’s long-awaited “franchise quarterback”: Joel Klatt of Fox Sports thinks Kelly could be “this draft’s version of Dak Prescott.”

Long-time Tidewater/Norfolk Tides general manager Dave Rosenfeld died this week at age 87. He was GM of the Tides from 1963 through 2011 and provided color commentary for Norfolk home games as recently as last summer. He was a four-time International League Executive of the Year and was electerd to the IL Hall of Fame in 2008.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO…

Friday, March 3 – Devin Smith (25)…Eric Farris (31)…Santonio Holmes (33)…Alexander Semin (33)…Colton Orr (35)…Rick Mirer (47)…Diann Roffe (49)…Herschel Walker (55)…Jackie Joyner-Kersee (55)…Brian Leetch (59)…Randy Gradishar (65).

Saturday, March 4 – Nick Castellanos (25)…Jared Sullinger (25)…Draymond Green (27)…Sergio Romo (34)…Landon Donovan (35)…Robert Smith (45)…Kevin Johnson (51)…Gord Kluzak (53)…Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini (56)…Judy Dickinson (67).

Sunday, Match 5 – Kyle Schwarber (24)…Corey Brewer (31)…Erik Bedard (38)…Mike Hessman (39)…Wally Szczerbiak (40)…Bryan Bedard (40)…Paul Kornerko (41)…Jeffrey Hammonds (46)…Michael Irvin (51)…Bob Halkidis (51)…Reggie Williams (53)…Scott Skiles (53)…Paul Gardner (61)…Rocky Bleier (71)…Phil Roof (76).