The Buffalo Sabres (37-30-9-83, third in Northeast, 10th in East) enter tonight's game against the Washington Capitals (47-23-7-101, first in Southeast, second in East) in a position all too familiar to Caps fans.
Currently, Buffalo is in 10th place in the conference, six points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers, with six games remaining. They actually have two games in hand over the Rangers, but the Florida Panthers are in the mix as well, in ninth place with 87 points. So every point is crucial for the Sabres.
To make matters worse, Buffalo embarks on a three-game road trip where they will face the Caps, New Jersey tomorrow night, and Detroit on Monday. Their fleeting playoff hopes could be over by the end of the weekend.
Washington, on the other hand, knows that they'll be playing into mid-April, just not against whom. With the Southeast Division sewn up, the Caps have the conference's second seed in sight, and currently lead the aforementioned Devils by three in that race. The Capitals are 28-9-2 at home this season, and would like nothing more than to achieve home-ice advantage for as long as they can in the playoffs.
The season series between the two teams favors Washington, two games to one. The Sabres spanked the Caps 5-0 in Buffalo on Nov. 1, with the Caps taking a pair of one-goal games in the span of four days in December.
The offense seems to be heating back up for the Caps, as they've registered 14 goals in their last three home games, all wins, after a disappointing four-game home losing streak.
The Caps are led, as always, by Alex Ovechkin. The Russian Machine has four goals and three assists in his last three games and has reached 100 points for the third time in his four NHL seasons. With 54 goals, he still has an outside shot to reach the magical 60-goal mark, though he needs six goals in five games.
Want to challenge him?
Defenseman Mike Green reached a lofty achievement himself in the Caps 5-3 win over the New York Islanders Wednesday night. He broke the mark for team power play goals by a defenseman, with 19, and scored his 30th goal of the season, a feat accomplished by just eight defensemen in NHL history, and the first since Washington's Kevin Hatcher in the 1993-94 season.
Alexander Semin needs one goal for the 30-goal mark, and Brooks Laich has 19 goals, just one short of a milestone as well.
Coach Bruce Boudreau expects to have Simeon Varlamov in net tonight. He is 3-0-0 in four games with a 1.74 goals against average and a sparkling .939 save percentage.
Buffalo should counter with Ryan Miller (31-16-8, 2.52, .918), traditionally a Caps killer, with a lifetime 8-3-0 record and 2.53 goals against average when facing Washington.