At the start of the new year, the idea of a playoff appearance by the Buffalo Sabres seemed farfetched.
The team was seemingly out of the Eastern Conference race, but the Sabres have gone 29-11-6 since Dec. 28 and 9-1-2 in their last 12 games.
The Sabres are entering the playoffs on a roll.
Their first-round opponents are the Flyers, who enter on something less than a roll.
Here are 10 things past and present about the Sabres to get you ready for the postseason:
1 When Buffalo joined the NHL 40 seasons ago, co-founder Seymour Knox conducted a name-the-team contest in search of something original. The winning name, Sabres, was chosen because it symbolizes leadership. The Sabres' leader this season has been forward Thomas Vanek, who has scored a team-high 73 points with 32 goals and 41 assists.
2 Goalie Ryan Miller was the starter for the U.S. hockey team that took silver in last year's Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. Miller was honored as MVP of the tournament and later received the Vezina Trophy as the most outstanding goalie of the 2009-10 NHL season. He was recently sidelined with an upper body injury, but is expected back for the postseason.
3 The Sabres are clutch on the power play, capitalizing 19.4 percent of the time, which is ninth best in the league. Vanek and Drew Stafford both lead the Sabres with 11 power-play goals apiece. The team is also proficient at preventing goals when shorthanded themselves, escaping opposing power plays without a goal 83 percent of the time.
4 Sabres veteran center Rob Niedermayer is the younger brother of former NHL defenseman Scott Niedermayer, who was his teammate in Anaheim for four seasons. Niedermayer is also a cousin of Edmonton Oilers defenseman Jason Strudwick, but he is not the only Sabre with hockey bloodlines. Vanek's father, Zdenek, played professional hockey in Austria for several seasons before moving to America.
5 In his 13th season with the Sabres, head coach Lindy Ruff is now the longest-tenured coach in the NHL. Ruff is 526-390-150 in his coaching career with Buffalo, reaching the playoffs eight times with one Stanley Cup appearance, which came in the 1998-99 season. Ruff also played 10 seasons for Buffalo as a defenseman before being traded to the New York Rangers in 1989.
6 Sabres forward Cody McCormick leads the team in penalty minutes this season with 142, which is tied for 16th-most in the NHL. As a team, Buffalo has averaged 11.7 penalty minutes per game and has accumulated 30 major fighting penalties with 16 of them coming courtesy of McCormick.
7 Sabres rookie forward Tyler Ennis made his NHL debut in Philadelphia on Nov. 14, 2009, scoring his first professional goal against the Flyers' Ray Emery in a 3-2 win. Ennis is the fourth-highest points leader among rookies this season with 20 goals and 29 assists.
8 The home of the Sabres, HSBC Arena, opened in 1996 and holds 18,690 fans. The arena was designed by architect Ellerbe Becket, who also designed Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center. The Sabres have boasted the 10th-best home attendance record this season with an average of 18,452 fans per game while the Flyers have drawn 19,710 per game.
9 Terrence Pegula, the same businessman who recently donated $88 million to Penn State for the construction of a new ice hockey arena, purchased the Sabres franchise back in February. Pegula also bought Buffalo's indoor lacrosse franchise, the Bandits, and is now rumored to have interest in the Buffalo Bills.
10 Buffalo's first hopes of winning a Stanley Cup were shattered by the Flyers in the 1975 finals. At the time, Hall of Fame center Gilbert Perreault along with forwards Rick Martin and Rene Robert formed what became known as the "French Connection," but the sensational trio could not pull out the victory. Martin died on March 13 in a car accident. More than 2,500 fans showed up for a memorial tribute outside the arena.