After a disappointing loss, the Buffalo Sabres are holding on to their playoff hopes by the slimmest of margins. Another defeat would all but finish that chase.
To avoid missing the postseason for a second straight year, the Sabres will likely need help from other Eastern Conference teams and a perfect run on their daunting, four-game, six-day stretch, which begins Monday night at home against the Detroit Red Wings.
Buffalo (38-31-9) is 10th in the East - four points behind the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers with one game in hand on both teams. After taking on the Red Wings, the Sabres face one non-playoff team in their final three contests, traveling to Toronto and Carolina on consecutive nights beginning Wednesday before hosting Boston on Saturday.
The Rangers play Montreal on Tuesday night then have two games against Philadelphia. The Panthers head to Philadelphia and Atlanta before taking on Washington at home Saturday night.
"Fortunately, we have more games left and we can still do some damage," forward Drew Stafford said. "We do need some help, but we've got to take care of our end of it, too."
Buffalo came out flat at the wrong time Saturday night against visiting New Jersey, allowing the Devils to score twice in the first 5:38. Trailing 3-0 entering the final 20 minutes, the Sabres launched a furious 23-shot rally but produced only two goals in a 3-2 defeat.
"We got off to a tough start," goaltender Ryan Miller said. "Guys wanted to go out and get a feel like this was just another game. And, bang, we're down 2-0."
While Miller is 3-1-1 since returning from a sprained ankle, he has been inconsistent with a 3.30 goals-against average in that span - giving up 16 goals - and was pulled after two periods in Saturday's loss.
Clarke MacArthur and Tim Connolly have been providing the bulk of the offense for Buffalo. MacArthur has five goals in his last seven games, while Connolly has four goals and 10 points in his last six. Leading goal-scorer Thomas Vanek, though, has just five goals and three assists in 15 games since returning from a broken jaw March 4.
The Sabres have won just two of their last 17 games against the Red Wings, including only once in the past seven games at home since the 1996-97 season. Buffalo already lost at Detroit 3-1 on Jan. 10.
Facing another team desperately trying to make the postseason, Detroit (50-19-9) snapped a three-game skid with Sunday's 3-2 home win over Minnesota as Marian Hossa scored with 55 seconds left.
"They need to win every game to get into the playoffs," said Hossa, who has a team-leading 38 goals. "We felt an urgency in the dressing room, too, that this was a playoff game."
The Red Wings, who reached the 50-win mark for the fourth straight season, are trying to make their own improbable run toward the Presidents' Trophy, but trail San Jose by six points and Boston by four with four games left.
Detroit has won six of its last seven road games, outscoring opponents 29-14.