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Sabres eye Hurricanes in key midseason matchup

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Two big points on the line as bubble teams face off

Buffalo Sabres v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Game 53

Buffalo Sabres (26-20-6) vs Carolina Hurricanes (26-21-6)

Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST | KeyBank Center | Buffalo, NY

TV: MSG-B

Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation Hurricanes Blog:Canes Country

Know Your Opponent

Carolina Hurricanes

Record: (26-21-6) | 58 PTS

Last 10: 6-3-1

Division Ranking: 5th in Metropolitan Division

Conference Ranking: 10th in Eastern Conference

PP: 26th (15.9%)

PK: 15th (79.8%)

What to Watch

1. Ebb and flow

With thirty games left in the season, it seems silly to put so much weight on these midseason drudge matches. The fact is, though, the wheat is quickly separating from the chaff, and Buffalo is a hull gently falling to the ground in the hope of becoming a harvest next season.

These two points are key; Carolina and Buffalo are deadlocked at 58 points, with the Sabres holding a game in hand. Keeping the distance between themselves and the Canes is integral as the team tries to claw back into the race.

The Sabres also need this win to keep pace with Columbus. The Blue Jackets remain three points ahead of Buffalo for the final wild card spot, and are set up nicely with an easy matchup in Arizona.

It’s getting more and more difficult to make up the lost ground of the last 30 games. After Tuesday’s big win, Buffalo needs to keep rolling if they’re going to keep playoff hopes alive.

2. His name is Linus

The city of Buffalo owes Carter Hutton a distinct debt of gratitude. Hutton’s heroics were unquestionably the driving force behind Buffalo’s 10-game winning streak to set them up as nicely as they are now.

Since then, though, Hutton has faltered, which isn’t at all a condemnation of the netminder. He still has an important role with the club. The truth is that he was brought here to bridge the gap between the AHL version of Linus Ullmark and the NHL version of Linus Ullmark.

It may have happened sooner than the team expected, but we are seeing an NHL-ready rookie in Ullmark. He’s emerging as a quality starting goaltender, and it’s becoming more noticeable.

It’s time the team do the right thing and name Ullmark the number one. He’s done more than prove his worth in his first full year in the league.

3. Some Skin in the game

Is it wrong to criticize the team’s only thirty-goal scorer in the 2018-19 season? Maybe. But for all of his production early on, Skinner hasn’t been the same lately. He’s got only one goal in the last five games, despite increased minutes - nearly three full minutes above his season average in the last handful of matches.

Coach Phil Housley is trying to give the star the time he needs to put the puck in the net, but it isn’t happening right now, and the results have not been great for the Sabres. In those same five games, Buffalo has won two.

There is no question that the team needs scoring support from its depth lines, but in these dreary February days, the Sabres also need a spark from their top players. The team (Skinner’s upcoming contract negotiations) would benefit greatly from a multi-point game.

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Jeff Skinner-Jack Eichel-Jason Pominville

Conor Sheary-Casey Mittelstadt-Sam Reinhart

CJ Smith-Evan Rodrigues-Kyle Okposo

Zemgus Girgensons-Johan Larsson-Vladimir Sobotka

Defense

Rasmus Dahlin-Rasmus Ristolainen

Lawrence Pilut-Zach Bogosian

Marco Scandella-Jake McCabe

Nathan Beaulieu-Matt Hunwick

Starting Goaltender: Linus Ullmark

Carolina Hurricanes

Forwards

Nino Niederreiter - Sebastian Aho - Justin Williams

Michael Ferland - Lucas Wallmark - Teuvo Teravainen

Andrei Svechnikov - Jordan Martinook - Brock McGinn

Warren Foegele - Greg McKegg - Saku Maenalanen

Defense

Jaccob Slavin - Dougie Hamilton

Brett Pesce - Justin Faulk

Calvin de Haan - Trevor van Riemsdyk

Starting Goaltender: Petr Mrazek