Sabres-Panthers Preview: Battle For a Playoff Spot

Brandon K.Correspondent IJanuary 19, 2009

For the second straight game, the Buffalo Sabres (23-17-5, 51 points) will be playing in a four point contest. The Florida Panthers (21-16-7, 49 points) are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, and trail the eighth place Pittsburgh Penguins by only one point for the final playoff spot.

Perhaps more intriguing is that they trail the Sabres by only two points. With a game in hand, Florida can take over sole possession of seventh place in the Eastern Conference with a win over the Sabres tonight.

Both teams have been playing some of their best hockey in recent weeks. The Sabres are 7-3-0 in their last ten games, while the Panthers have won six of their last eight games.

The Sabres are thriving due to the success of their goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller has been on a tear in recent starts. He is 6-1 in his last seven starts while posting a 1.96 goals against average.

Saturday night the Sabres defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The win proved to be vital, because with a loss, the Sabres would have been tied in the Eastern Conference with Carolina at 49 points.

Instead, the Sabres have sole possession of seventh, and continue to quietly climb in the standings.

Just like the Hurricanes, the Panthers will face-off against Buffalo just two points behind them in the standings.

The Sabres can take full advantage of tonight's match-up with a victory.  But it will not be easy.

The Panthers are one of the hardest working teams in the NHL, and are no longer an easy "W" for any opponent. They have a very balanced attack, as ten players on their roster have 20 or more points, led by the team's leading scorer, David Booth (18G-11A, 29 points).

All Star defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester is playing his best hockey of the season and is amidst a six-game point streak for Florida (10G-16A, 26 points).

Nathan Paetsch will return to the lineup tonight for Buffalo. He takes the place of Teppo Numminen who will miss a few weeks after having surgery to repair a fractured jaw bone.  Paetsch has only played 11 games this season, registering just two assists.

The scheduled puck drop for the game between the Sabres and Panthers is set for 7:30 P.M. EST, from the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida.