You may have heard that tonight is an important game for the Buffalo Sabres. In a season that seemed all but over less than two months ago, the team can continue to control their own destiny with a win against the Washington Capitals this evening. Both teams have six games remaining, and both teams sit tied in the eight spot with 84 points. The Capitals do hold the non-shootout wins tiebreaker, but that would be a moot point with a Sabres win tonight. Of course there's still a chance of the Sabres making the playoffs if they lose this game, but who wants to even think about that situation? My brain already hurts from staring at the standings the past three weeks. A win tonight would make the playoff picture a bit more clear, at least for a couple of days. The Sabres grabbing two points tonight would be just as big as the Caps missing out on two. It's one of those four point swing games that mean so much at this time of year.
The Washington Capitals seemed to be doing everything in their power to fall out of the playoffs about a month ago. But as the Sabres started to surge, the Caps turned on the jets, most recently taking 6 out of a possible 8 points this past week. If there's a bright side for the Sabres, it's the home vs. road matchup. The Caps are 7-5-3 in their last 15 home games, while the Sabres have went 9-3-2 in their last 14 games on the road. As much as it would be nice for this game to be in the friendly confines of the F'N Center, the Sabres have shown lately that they're just fine with the pressure of the road.
Click over for some more tidbits to get you ready for the game:
The highlighted matchup for the casual NHL fan will be Ryan Miller vs. Alex Ovechkin. Ryan Miller was named the Second Star of the Week this past week (4-0, 1.26 GAA, .956 SV%), while Ovechkin was the Third Star (4 GP, 6G, 7PTS). These are two of the national faces of the NHL, no doubt about it. It will be exciting to see just how big they step up for their respective teams tonight.
But perhaps the matchup that will fly a bit under the radar is the Sabres hottest line vs. the Capitals hot goalie. Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, and Marcus Foligno have paced the Sabres in the last eight games with 34 total points (15 goals). 22 year old Caps goalie Braden Holtby was called up three games ago to replace the sidelined Tomas Vokoun and has responded by posting a 2-0-1 record, 1.30 GAA, and .955 SV%. Some other storylines to keep an eye on? Cody Hodgson is beginning to pay dividends for the Sabres, posting 6 points in his last 4 games. The Sabres also hope that Thomas Vanek is beginning to come around after being mired in a long slump. He has 5 points during this 4 game win streak.
As for the team themselves, the Sabres aren't putting too much pressure on themselves, but also aren't taking the "just another game" approach. From what has been said in the media, they're viewing this one game more as a piece of the larger puzzle that has been the sprint to sneak into the playoffs (quotes from Buffalo News):
Coach Lindy Ruff:
I don't think I have to sell anything. They know where they're at. They understand where we can get to and how big the two points is.
It's just another game in a long line of games that are meaningful that we had to win. I'm not going to make it any different. We've had some challenges in the last few months, and this is just another one.
You just have to make sure we continue playing the way that we have been. You don't want to get yourself too worked up that you don't go out there and do the things that you're supposed to. We've been on a pretty good roll, playing some good hockey, and we have to continue that.
Like we stated above, the losing team can certainly still make the playoffs, but these are the type of games that seem to sum up the whole season in just 60 minutes of hockey. The Sabres are playing it cool based on the above quotes, but make no mistake, they know just how big this one is. With games remaining against The Penguins, Flyers, and Bruins, they don't have much room for error. It's that time of year again, folks. This is why we love hockey. Enjoy the game tonight, and try not to chew off your fingers in the process.
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