The Buffalo Sabres received some help in their quest for the final playoff spot last night.
The Chicago Blackhawks did Buffalo a huge favor by defeating the visiting Washington Capitals by a 5-2 score. Approximately 700 miles to the north, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Carolina Hurricanes descended into an arena where not too many other teams have had much luck winning this season, and promptly blew out of town with a last-minute, come-from-behind 4-3 victory over a dejected Jets team. The Jets held a 3-2 lead with just over ten minutes to play in regulation, when Eric Staal roared in on a breakaway, and tied the game. Chad LaRose‘s 17th goal of the season, with exactly 1:22 left to play, gave the Canes the victory.
As the Sabres head into tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, all of this keeps the Sabres tied with Winnipeg at 76 points apiece, while still remaining two points behind Washington for the 8th, and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Sabres have lost two consecutive games in the shootout, but still remain 6-2-2 in their last ten games, and 13-5-5 since the All-Star break. Goalie Ryan Miller has started all but two games during that stretch, posting three shutouts during that span. Tyler Ennis remains the hottest Sabres player, recording 8 goals and 9 assists in 23 games since returning from injured reserve on January 31st. Cody Hodgson has yet to record a point in ten games as a Sabre, and is a minus five during that span.
This is the 74th meeting between these two teams, with Tampa leading the season series 3-0-0, and the Sabres holding a 46-22-5 record all-time.
With only 180 goals through 72 games, the Sabres are on pace to post one of the lowest results in total goals in team history. The 2002-03 Sabres team finished the season with 190 goals, the fewest in a non-lockout shortened season in team history. At it’s current pace, this year’s Sabres team has a shot at finishing near the 203 goals the woeful 16-43-19 team of 1971-72 put up, which was the 2nd lowest total in Sabres history.
Tyler Myers will sit out his last of a three-game suspension for boarding Montreal Canadiens forward Scott Gomez in last week’s meeting between the two clubs. With Myers eyeing his return Wednesday against those same Canadiens, defenseman Brayden McNabb will most likely be sent back to Rochester.
Tampa is 5-4-1 in it’s last ten, but have run into the same injury bug that plagued the Sabres for much of the year. Out for the season are Mattias Ohlund (knee surgery), Dana Tyrell (knee) and Marc-Andre Bergeron (upper-body), while out for tonight’s game are captain Vincent Lecavalier, Mathieu Garon, Bruno Gervais and Nate Thompson.
Forward Steven Stamkos notched his 50th goal of the season – which leads the NHL – last week against the Boston Bruins. He leads the Lightning in points, as well, with 84. The next closest Lightning player is Martin St. Louis, with 64 points.
The Lightning sit 13th in the Eastern Conference at 71 points, with eleven games to go in their regular season. Tampa’s goalies have given up a league-leading 240 goals this season, however, have only allowed Buffalo to score four times in their previous three meetings this season.
The Big Picture:
After tonight, the Sabres have a tough stretch of three games in four nights. After Wednesday’s game against Montreal, the Sabres will play in New York against the Rangers on Friday, then fly home to face the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. Then, Tuesday, March 27th, the Sabres will face-off in what could be one of the most important games of the year, when they face the Capitals on the road.