6 games remain for the Buffalo Sabres.
12 days are left in the NHL regular season.
Tonight, the Sabres are on the road to face the Washington Capitals, in an all-important showdown of epic proportions that could ultimately determine which of the two teams takes the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Both teams are tied with 84 points, while the Ottawa Senators sit in the 7th spot with 88 points.
Although Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff tried to downplay the game by saying “it is not the end of the world,” the Mayans themselves (and fans throughout Sabreland) might disagree. With both teams playing well as of late, it will be difficult for the loser of this game to come back and make the postseason.
Sports Club Stats now estimates the Sabres chances of making the postseason dance at 40%. Only 4 days ago, that figure was at 23%; a week ago the chances were 15%; a couple weeks ago it was less than 5%. Buffalo had definitely been defying the odds over the past 6 weeks. They have the Capitals playoff odds slated at 69%.
Buffalo enters the game 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, while Washington is only one win worse, 6-2-2 in their last 10. The Capitals are 2nd best in the East at home, with a 24-10-4 record. The Sabres are 17-18-2 on the road, coming off a road victory against the team with the best home record in the East – the New York Rangers.
Aside from one of Harry Neale’s keys to the game, “scoring goals,” the main factor should once again be the play of Ryan Miller. Prior to the All-Star break, Miller had a mediocre record of 12-15-2 with a 3.07 GAA and a save percentage of .899. Since the break, he has been an astounding 15-3-5 with a 1.94 GAA and a .935 save percentage, leading the charge for the Sabres from the Eastern Conference basement to their current fight for a playoff spot.
Who is hot for the Sabres: rookie Marcus Foligno, with 10 points in 8 games since his call-up from the AHL; rookie Cody Hodgson, with 6 points in his last 4 games; Ryan Miller, 13-1-3 and only 31 goals allowed in his last 17 games; Tyler Ennis, with 20 points in his last 20 games; and Drew Stafford with 12 points in his last 7 games.
Who is hot for the Capitals: young Braden Holtby, who is 2-0-1 in his last 3 games, and has a 2.22 GAA and .927 save percentage on the season; Alex Ovechkin, with 9 goals in his last 7 games; Alex Semin has 4 points in his last 3; and Jason Chimera has 5 points in his last 4 games.
Ovechkin has 29 points in 26 career games against the Sabres. Holtby is also coming off of a shutout against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.
For Washington, Nicklas Backstrom remains out with a concussion. Nathan Gerbe and Pat Kaleta skated this morning for the Sabres, and Travis Turnbull was returned to Rochester. It appears that Kaleta will play tonight, while Gerbe will be a scratch.
“It’s going to be like a playoff game,” said Jason Chimera of the Capitals. From the Sabres Robyn Regehr: “I think to call it a big game is an understatement.”
So, Sabres fans, get your stress relievers ready, because it is going to be a doozy. Depending on your fancy, keep your aspirins, yoga mat, alcohol, Tums, coffee, Chinese medicine balls, and punching bags at the ready.