20 Games To Go

With twenty games left in the regular season, let's take a look at where your Buffalo Sabres are in the standings, and the upcoming schedule. The Sabres have gone 5-3-2 in their last ten games, for 12 out of 20 points. They stand at 11th, with 62 points, six out of eighth place. A similar record in the closing stretch will garner 86 points for the season, unlikely to be enough to make the playoffs. Buffalo will have to play even better, a tall ask considering the majority of the remaining games are away from home.

More after the jump.

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The Eastern Conference playoff battle promises to be an intriguing one for the neutral fan. With 15th-placed Montreal ten points out of the last playoff spot, no one is theoretically out of the reckoning and a good closing run could secure the all-important post-season spot for any team.

What makes it even more interesting is that the mediocrity of the Southeast Division will play a big part in determining fates of teams across the board. The division winner automatically secures the third position in the conference, and it is quite feasible that no other team in the Southeast makes the playoffs after that. Florida is tied with Winnipeg with 68 points at the top, but with four games in hand over the Jets, the Panthers are in good position to ensure post-season hockey in BankAtlantic Center since the turn of the century.

The Sabres play 13 of the last 20 on the road, where they are 11-16-1 for the year. At the FN Center, the Sabres are 16-11-7 on the season. There will need to be a drastic improvement in road play for Buffalo to still be in contention come March & April. The seven home games represent 14 points, of which the Sabre can ill-afford to lose any.

Five of Buffalo's last twenty games are against Western Conference opponents, against whom the Sabres have gone 7-6-0 so far. The upcoming West Coast swing comprises Anaheim who are six points out of eighth, San Jose in seventh place, and Vancouver, currently leading the President's Trophy race with 86 points. Anything less than four points on this swing could be another nail in the Sabres' regular season coffin. Buffalo are at home for the other two - Minnesota who are fading fast after their bright, League-leading start to the season and Colorado who are right in the thick of things in a three-way tie for eighth. [Best case approx. 7pts]

Of the remaining games, nine are against teams embroiled in the Eastern Conference playoff tangle with the Sabres. Buffalo will need to win these games in regular time to ensure that their opponents do not take home the loser point. Failure to collect even a point in any of these games would be another nail in the above-mentioned coffin. The best case scenario for the Sabres would be for the rest of the teams to continue slaying each other, hopefully in regular time, to ensure no one mounts a solid run of games. [Best case approx. 13pts]

The last six games are against teams who look to have a playoff spot secured in the East. These consist of (with the Sabres current record against the team in parentheses): two games in Boston (2-1-1), one in Ottawa (2-1-2), at the New York Rangers (0-1-2), at home against Pittsburgh (2-1-0) and finally at Philadelphia (0-2-1). This is where the playoff spot could be won or lost - Buffalo have been hammered at Boston and at Philadelphia, while the Rangers Ryan Callahan has owned them this year. Wins against Ottawa and Pittsburgh, stealing another win and some OT/SO losses could do the trick. [Best case approx. 7pts]

With the best case scenarios netting them 27pts, that would put Buffalo at 89 points which could still clinch the all-important post-season berth. However, Buffalo are tied for last in the Conference in the regular & overtime wins category which counts as the tiebreaker. Even imagining the Sabres missing out on the playoffs on a tiebreaker like this sets my teeth on edge, especially with it being highly possible that the winner of the Southeast Division would not even have made it to the playoffs without the divisional quota system in place!