Sabres' Final Playoff Push
Buffalo Sabres (33-29-6) at Florida Panthers (39-31-7)
Puck Drop: 7:00 PM | FLA Live Arena | Sunrise, FL
Radio: WGR 550
Know Your Opponent
Record: 39-31-7 | 85 PTS
Division Ranking: 4th in Atlantic
Last Game: 7-0 Win vs Columbus Blue Jackets
PP: 11th (22.5%)
PK: 27th (74.6%)
What to Watch
1. Rise to the Moment
At the start of the season, Sabres fans hoped for meaningful games in March. Here we are on April 4th with possibly the most important Sabres game since they clinched a playoff berth in 2011. The Panthers are the first runner-up in the wild card race and hold a 4-point advantage on the Sabres. However, Buffalo has two games in hand on Florida.
As it now stands, the best-case scenario for each playoff team is 97 points (Penguins), 95 points (Islanders), 95 points (Panthers), and 95 points (Sabres). With a win, Buffalo can maintain the 95-point ceiling and drop the Panthers to either 94 or 93, depending on if the game ends in regulation or not. If the reverse were to happen, it would be very difficult for Buffalo to make up ground on two of the remaining three Wild-Card contenders.
One reason for optimism: this iteration of the Buffalo Sabres has shown up in big moments. Dating back to last year, they won RJ night, the Heritage Classic, RJ’s last call, Ryan Miller night, and (most recently) Devon Levi’s debut. This is an opportunity for this young team to show their bright future doesn’t begin down the road; it has arrived.
2. Calm Your Mind
With both teams’ seasons on the line, tonight will have a playoff atmosphere. This is a new experience for Buffalo, and they will need to adapt. There will likely be penalties uncalled, scrums after the whistle, and plenty of chirping throughout. This is particularly true against the Panthers, who have tried to bait Buffalo skaters into taking undisciplined penalties in past matchups. The Sabres cannot afford to take excess penalties. Their penalty kill is weak and, while Levi was phenomenal in his debut, he is still adjusting to the NHL game. Buffalo will need to decipher where the referees draw the line and have the mental toughness prevent the game’s heightened intensity from provoking undisciplined penalties. They shouldn’t have to resort to Levi’s method of TV timeout meditation, but it couldn’t hurt.
3. Whose Star Will Shine Brightest?
The Sabres had a welcome sight at Monday’s practice as Tage Thompson was a full participant. He has missed the last three games with an upper body injury. Tonight, he will go toe to toe with another NHL star: Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk is one of 6 players in the NHL with over 100 points this season with 101 in 74 games. Thompson is having a career year with 89 points in 72 games. Both players will be called upon to lead their teams to victory. Thompson will need to keep his head up as the Panthers will likely test how well he’s recovered from his injury. Radko Gudas is almost certain to try and line up a punishing hit on the star centerman. Buffalo defenders will need to attack Tkachuk from the opening puck drop. They must force his to earn every inch of ice and prevent any uncontested looks on Levi. Tkachuk will likely be impactful even against the stingiest of defenders, but they could wear him down to limit his effectiveness later in the game. It will take a team effort to contain the Panthers’ star and earn a vital victory.
Skinner - Thompson - Tuch
Peterka - Cozens - Quinn
Greenway - Mittelstadt - Jost
Girgensons - Krebs - Okposo
Samuelsson – Dahlin
Power – Jokiharju
Stillman – Lyubushkin
Verhaeghe - Barkov - Duclair
Luostarinen - Lundell - Tkachuk
Lomberg – Eric Staal - Reinhart
Cousins – White – Smith
Forsling - Ekblad
Mark Staal - Montour
Mahura – Gudas