From the sound of it, "Pegulaville" sounded like the "Land of Chocolate" Homer Simpson once daydreamed about as the Germans attempted to take over the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant: a happy, care-free place where the lamp posts were made of chocolate.
OK, maybe not that last part. But when Terry Pegula and his endless supply of cash bought the Buffalo Sabres a little more than a year ago, times, they were a'changing, and for the better. No more would Buffalo be thought of in some aspects as a Nashville North, finding success with a tight budget. No, now it was time to loosen the purse strings and finally give GM Darcy Regier the financial flexibility to be a major player in the free-agent market.
And boy did he ever take advantage.
Fat, long-term deals for Ville Leino (six years, $27 million) and Christian Ehrhoff (10 years, $40 million), as well as re-signing Drew Stafford (four years, $16 million) were the big offseason moves for Buffalo over the summer, instantly increasing expectations heading into the 2011-12 season.
Of course, we know how things deteriorated into the Sabres finding themselves tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for dead last in the Eastern Conference on Feb. 17. Then they took that West Coast trip where it all began to turn around, not only for the Sabres, but also Ryan Miller. After the Milan Lucic/Boston Bruins controversy back in November, it took a while, but Miller found his game once again and has reeled off nine wins in his last 11 starts.
So where did this turnaround in Buffalo come from? Maybe the desperation finally set in? Maybe Regier should piss off his goaltender again and get rid of more of Miller's other good buddies on the team? Or, maybe the recent stretch where the Sabres played seven of eight away from First Niagara Center was the tonic for finally getting the group on the same page before things went down in flames.
Since Feb. 17, the Sabres are 9-2-1 and have gone from tied for 15th in the East to ninth, four points behind the Washington Capitals for the final playoff spot with 12 games to play.
They've come a long way in a short period of time, considering the way things were close to being off the rails.
Just two months ago, allowing the tying goal with 3.5 seconds left in regulation likely would've cooked the Sabres, defenseman Tyler Myers said.
"I would say it would be very tough for our group," said Myers, whose goal 2:01 into overtime Monday clinched a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the surging Sabres' ninth triumph in 12 tries.
Back in January, the Sabres had morphed into a disjointed, ugly mess. They wilted under adversity. A playoff run seemed unfathomable.
As Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News pointed out earlier this week, if the Sabres find themselves in that No. 8 spot come April 8, it would be an historic occasion. No team in under this current NHL playoff format has ever made the postseason after being in last place in their conference in February. As @thesquelched points out, the 2008-09 St. Louis Blues did so. But, not to ruin the potentially historic feat, if the Sabres do qualify for the postseason, they would be only the second team in this format to overcome a 10-point deficit in February, joining the 1993-94 New York Islanders.
Now the playoffs are in sight and a berth would be a partly sunny day in a season that's featured mostly clouds.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy