Game Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Buffalo Sabres

BUFFALO NY - DECEMBER 11: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins pinches in on Ryan Miller #30 of the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena on December 11 2010 in Buffalo New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

As if you didn't hate the Bruins enough already, they couldn't even manage to give us a little bit of help last night against the Capitals. The Sabres and Capitals are back to being tied for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Washington holds the tiebreaker, but Buffalo has a game in hand. Win tonight and they're back in sole possession of the final spot. Lose and it virtually nullifies the dominant performance they churned out against Washington on Tuesday. Jason Pominville and company should be nice and fresh for this one. The Sabres have only played one game in the last five days.

If the Sabres feel good about the hot streak they've been on, they need only look across the ice to see a team that's been feeling equally good about their performance down the stretch run. Despite coming off consecutive losses to the New York Islanders, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been on top of their game since January, boasting 26 wins in their last 35 games. They're 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, with the Sabres posting an equally impressive 7-1-2 record during that time.

Buffalo holds a 2-1 season series advantage over Pittsburgh, including their last meeting on February 19th when the Sabres won 6-2. You can actually look at that game as the jump off point for the run the team has been on. Since (and including) that game, the Sabres have went 14-2-3. The last thing the Sabres want to allow is a chance for Pittsburgh to bookend that run by putting them down tonight. Buffalo has also had the advantage of avoiding Sidney Crosby in their previous three contests this year. Sid the Kid is healthy, and appears to be back to his dominant self, notching 13 points in the nine games since he's returned.

Take the jump for some more game notes:

It's not just Crosby who's been on fire as of late for the Pens. Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (1.20 GAA during the 5 game win streak) will have his hands full with the Penguins other star, Evgeni Malkin. "Geno" notched a goal in last night's contest to become the first NHL player this season to hit the 100 point mark. Malkin only played in two of the previous three games against the Sabres this season, but managed to tally six points. Pascal Dupuis is riding a 12 game point streak, which only adds to the offensive firepower the Penguins possess.

As you're well aware, the Sabres will be without defenseman Christian Ehrhoff tonight. Mike Weber replaces him in the lineup. The Sabres hope that their stellar play as of late will rub off a bit on Weber, who has a plus/minus of -19 in 47 games this season. He has been scratched in the last four contests. But the Penguins have a hole of their own to fill on the blue line, with Kris Letang missing his third straight game. Letang had registered 36 points in just 47 games this season. However, all eyes will be on the Sabres' blue line tonight, as Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr, and Andrej Sekera look to continue their high level of play and shut down an offense that averages 3.25 goals per game. As Paul Hamilton and Howard Simon noted on WGR550 this morning, it's been these three men who have been the unsung heroes of this run. During this five game win streak, they are a combined +15.

The Sabres have had some offensive firepower of their own lately. The Tyler Ennis/Drew Stafford/Marcus Foligno line (now dubbed Ennistaffoligno), has been every bit the young, exciting, energetic line that Sabres fans have craved this season. It cannot be overstated just how amazing Ennis has been as a point man, and he also seems to have awoke Stafford from his season long slumber. Tonight, the trio will look to continue their run as one of the best lines in all of hockey as of late. Is there a line in hockey more fun to watch right now than these guys?

And now for some quotes from The Buffalo News:

Mike Weber, who returns to the lineup tonight:

It's going to be an extremely fun game. It's really playoff hockey right now. Teams are ramped up and playing extremely solid. We've just got to keep playing the way we've been playing.

Derek Roy, who looks forward to these big games:

It's a good test for us. These are the games you play for. These are the games you grow up thinking about, wanting to play the big game, wanting to be in the spotlight, score the big goal, make the big save, block the big shot...whatever has to be done. We have to embrace this challenge and really work at it.

Lindy Ruff, who seems to hint that Pittsburgh's defense may be a weak point:

Offensively, they've been pretty good. Defensively, I've read some stuff where they want to tighten up on the defensive side of it. It should be a great skating game.

Well, fellow DBTBers, here we are again. Another day, another HUGE contest for our Buffalo Sabres. Is anyone going to the game tonight? If you don't have a ticket, you can still head down to the F'N Center for the Party in the Plaza, but dress warm - the forecast is calling for a chance of snow tonight! It's also Fan Appreciation Night at the arena tonight. Strictly Hip will be entertaining the crowd outside. Inside, the Sabres have guaranteed a 50-50 prize of at least $25,000, and players will be giving away their game worn jerseys to some lucky fans after the game. But perhaps the best prize will be Lindy Ruff's tie, which will also be given away. Kudos to Ted Black for acknowledging social media by saying this move was an homage to the great twitter account, @LindyRuffsTie.

It's Friday!! As if the anticipation of the end of the work day wasn't enough, we have one hell of a game to get pumped up for tonight! Share your feelings/emotions/minor heart palpitations below. LET'S GO BUFF-A-LO!

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