BUFFALO -- For the Buffalo Sabres, it's essentially win or start thinking about next season.
The Sabres face what comes down to an elimination game Friday night when they host the New York Rangers at First Niagara Center.
Buffalo, 10th in the Eastern Conference with 44 points, trails eighth-place New York by four points. The Sabres have four games remaining including Friday; the Rangers have five games left. The Rangers hold the tiebreaker with five more non-shootout wins than the Sabres.
A regulation win by New York would eliminate Buffalo from qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A Sabres victory would keep their hopes alive for at least one more day.
"We have to take care of our own destiny in that aspect," Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston said. "We've been that way for a while, just concentrating on one game and playing our best in that game. That'll be the same case [Friday]."
Buffalo and New York are 3-2-0 in their past five games and 6-3-1 in their past 10.
Since trading captain Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild at the deadline April 3, Buffalo is 5-2-0. In the days leading up to the deadline, the team also traded veteran defensemen Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr. That means the Sabres' lineup now features some younger players who haven't experienced this type of pressure-filled game before.
"You want to play in these games, especially when you're developing the kind of mentality that you need to play in this League," Rolston said. "You want to test your team in those situations and [Friday's] another test [against a] high-caliber opponent in a situation where you need to be successful. You find out a lot about your team."
Rangers coach John Tortorella said he would go with the same lineup that picked up a 6-1 win against the Florida Panthers on Thursday. The Sabres will stick with the lineup that's produced three straight victories; they have yet to win four games in a row this season.
Here are the projected lineups for each team:
Injured: Brian Boyle (leg)
Scratched: Mikhail Grigorenko