The New York Rangers(31-22-6, 68 points) are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games and continue to move downwards in the Eastern Conference Standings. The Buffalo Sabres(30-23-6, 66 points) are .500 in their last 10 and have hovered around the seventh and eighth spots in the Eastern Standings for quite sometime now.
A loss for either team could mean falling out of playoff contention and below the eighth seed. Every game is important for both teams and both point to tonight's match up as a must win.
The Sabres are currently tied for seventh place with the Florida Panthers, while the Rangers are the lone occupants of fifth place. The Panthers could help their cause with a win tonight at home against the NHL's best, the Boston Bruins.
Another team floating around spots four through seven is the Montreal Canadiens, who are just one point ahead of both the Panthers and Sabres with 67 points. The Canadiens host the Ottawa Senators today at 3:00 p.m. EST.
The end of the regular is just seven weeks away and every game is crucial from here on out. It could very well come down to the last few games of the season to decide who's in and who's out in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Sabres are coming off a road loss against the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night. The Sabres played well and seemed to match the intensity and speed of the high flying Flyers. The 6-3 final may be a bit misleading since the game was a lot closer.
The Flyers took their fourth and final lead with under nine minutes remaining in the third period before adding two empty net tallies to seal the game.
The Sabres have only two wins in their last six games and are 2-2 since losing the team's leading goal scorer, Thomas Vanek, to a jaw injury.
The Rangers are coming off a 3-1 victory over the league's bottom feeding New York Islanders on Wednesday night. But before Wednesday's victory, the Rangers had won only one of their previous nine contests. That stretch of games includes a 10-2 stomping from the Dallas Stars.
After a 13-2-1 start the Rangers have slowly dropped off from Eastern Conference supremacy. Now, with just a month and half remaining, the Rangers are holding on by the skin of their teeth.
Guys like Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, and Markus Naslund have struggled to put points on the board lately. All three have been apart of large stretches without scoring a single goal.
Ranger's defenseman Wade Redden, who signed an outrageous five-year, $32.5 million contract this offseason was brought in to bolster the power play in the Big Apple. Redden has only one power play point since Nov. 20 and has only contributed six total points on the power play all season long.
The big names with big contracts are once again the problem for the Rangers. They need consistent contribution from the aforementioned players if they want to remain in playoff contention. If not, they will continue to slip down the standings.
The Panthers can jump the Rangers in the standings with a win tonight and a Rangers loss.
The Sabres can also slip in the standings with a loss and a win from the Canadiens and/or Panthers. The Carolina Hurricanes sit just one point behind the eight seed in the Eastern Conference with 65 points.
The stakes are set very high for another game for Buffalo. The Rangers should be just as hungry since they are also fighting for their playoff lives.
Here are the keys to victory for the Sabres:
- Come out ready to play — The Sabres have shown little energy in the first 10 minutes of recent games. They need to set the tone early and allow the hometown crowd to become a factor for the full 60 minutes.
- Play physical — Pat Kaleta will be back in the lineup tonight for the Sabres after being benched in favor of Andrew Peters Wednesday night. This is a certain plus for the Sabres since Peters played a measly three shifts against Philadelphia.
- Special teams — The Sabres' tough penalty kill has softened lately. They have only killed just 13 of the past 22 short-handed situations.
- Play smart in the defensive zone — Henrik Tallinder is healthy and ready to go tonight. Tallinder has been out with a shoulder injury since Jan. 21. Teppo Numminen will have a seat in the press box tonight.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff knows that each game is a must-win from here on out. He hopes his team can put a string of games together to help their chances.
The faceoff for tonight's game between the Rangers and Sabres is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST at the H.S.B.C in Buffalo, NY.