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Sabres playoff run starts now

Monday, 03.10.2008 / 10:10 AM / The Week Ahead

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

Buffalo's Ryan Miller  will take on ex-teammate Chris Drury, when the Sabres host the Rangers tonight. Ryan Miller highlights
Don't you get the feeling the Buffalo Sabres have become determined to prove the skeptics wrong?

The organization suffered big free-agent losses during the summer in Chris Drury and Danny Briere. Then, its best defenseman, Brian Campbell was moved to a team on the opposite coast. Plus, the club has had to tend to numerous injuries all season long. But coach Lindy Ruff isn't one to make excuses, and neither are his players.

"Yeah, people wrote us off early and we've been through some tough times, but we are still a young team with some good veterans,'' Sabres goalie Ryan Miller told "It's funny, we lost some guys who weren't very old players, but still got younger. So we still have that experience and youth out there filling in new roles. Guys who weren't leaders before this season are stepping up and finding ways to contribute. We're all positive.''

Center Derek Roy, 24, has been one such player taking a leadership role.

"It's a tough grind for every single team in the hunt, so we just have to pull up our socks in the last month and really make a push,'' Roy said. "I think everyone's determined, ready and focused and we have a lot of healthy bodies in the lineup now so it's time to pick up the pace.''

The Sabres have received some positive news in recent weeks with the return of forwards Maxim Afinogenov (groin tear), Drew Stafford (ankle) and Tim Connolly (hip).

The Sabres enter the week as the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference, four points behind eighth-seeded Philadelphia. Buffalo's critical home match with the sixth-seeded Rangers Monday at the HSBC Arena could go a long way in determining its playoff fate. The game highlights this week's NHL Six Pack.

Additionally, expect some fireworks in Nashville, Anaheim, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Carolina this week.

New York Rangers at Buffalo Sabres (Monday, 7 p.m. ET) -- The Sabres, who have lost all three meetings with the Rangers this season, are home for seven of the next 10 games. Left wing Thomas Vanek (27 goals) has cooled down a bit after scoring seven goals and 13 points in eight games; he's been held without a point in his last four. Still, Vanek is tied for third in the League with 14 power-play goals and seems to have nice chemistry with center Derek Roy (27 goals). The Rangers, 14-3-3 in their last 20, have 81 points and stand sixth in the Eastern Conference. Sean Avery (13 goals) continues to wield a hot stick, with eight goals in his last 11 games. Additionally, Henrik Lundqvist became only the second goalie in NHL history – along with Philadelphia's Ron Hextall – to record 30 victories in each of his first three seasons. He earned win No. 30 with a 4-1 victory against the Islanders last Thursday.

San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET) -- San Jose is riding a season-high nine-game win streak, including 5-0 in March. The club won its seventh straight on the road yesterday in Minnesota, and owns the NHL's best road record at 24-8-3. For the third straight season, the Sharks are finishing strong. The team went 8-1 in its final nine games of 2005-06, and 13-1-3 during its last 17 in 2006-07. In both seasons, the Sharks eventually would need just five games to eliminate the Predators in the first round of the playoffs. Nashville, which has lost all three meetings with San Jose this season, is 30-24-7 against teams in the Western Conference, but 8-9-1 against those in the Pacific Division. Predators captain Jason Arnott has four goals and 10 points in his last nine games and right wing J.P. Dumont has managed seven goals and 15 points during the last 12 contests. Not to be forgotten has been the play of goalie Dan Ellis (18-7-2), who has an 11-3-2 mark in his last 16 decisions.

Vancouver Canucks at Anaheim Ducks (Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET) -- Anaheim owns an impressive 23-8-4 record at home, including an 8-2 mark during its last 10 games. The Ducks have lost all three meetings with the Canucks this season, and enter the week fifth in the West and third in the Pacific Division. Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere ranks in the top four in the League in wins (31), goals-against average (2.14) and save percentage (.921). The Ducks recalled New Jersey native Bobby Ryan from the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League after learning Corey Perry would be sidelined six weeks with a right quad tendon laceration. Ryan, 20, has three goals and five points in 14 games with Anaheim this season. Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo (30-20-9, 2.23 GAA) is tied for second in the League with six shutouts, one of which was a 26-save, 4-0 blanking of the Ducks on Nov. 27. The Canucks are in need of all the points they can get as they currently sit tied with Nashville for the eighth slot in the West, two points behind seventh-seeded Colorado.

New Jersey Devils at Minnesota Wild (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET) – Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire has guided the Wild to a 246-227-89 mark in seven seasons, including a 143-91-46 ledger at Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota. However, Lemaire is only 1-3-3 against New Jersey, the team he coached to the Stanley Cup in 1994-95. The point from Sunday's shootout loss to San Jose pushed the Wild past Calgary and into third in the Western Conference. The Devils, who will be meeting their former mentor for the first time this season, have catapulted to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Devils have yielded the fewest goals (159) of any Eastern team and are second in the League behind Detroit (154), thanks in large part to the impeccable Martin Brodeur (38-21-5, 2.12 GAA, .922 save percentage). If you enjoy tight-checking, in-your-face hockey, this one is sure to please.

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins (Sunday, 12 p.m. ET) – The intrastate rivalry, this week's NBC Game of the Week, was born in 1967 when the teams debuted as expansion brethren. The Flyers hold a 4-1 lead in this season's series, but the teams have combined for 275 penalty minutes in those five games – an average of 55 minutes per game. Flyers center R.J. Umberger, a Pittsburgh native, has scored six of his 12 goals against the Penguins this season, and winger Mike Knuble (25 goals) is tied for third in the League with 14 power-play goals. The Flyers start the week with the eighth slot in the Eastern Conference, one point behind seventh-place Boston. Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar ranks second in the League among defenders in assists (45) and points (55). His housemate, Evgeni Malkin, is second in the League with 92 points. Sidney Crosby, who missed 21 games with a high ankle sprain, has two goals and two assists in three games since his return. So ring the bell, it's Round 6.

Ottawa Senators at Carolina Hurricanes (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET) – To say Ottawa is limping down the stretch is an obvious understatement. The club, currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, is 3-5-2 in its last 10 matches. Since acquiring forward Cory Stillman and defenseman Mike Commodore from Carolina on Feb. 11, the Senators are 5-7-2. Center Jason Spezza and winger Dany Heatley have scored just four goals each in the team's last 14 games. Carolina, despite the loss of injured Rod Brind'Amour, is third in the East and 7-2-1 in its last 10, including an 8-1-1 mark at home. Since acquiring forward Patrick Eaves and defenseman Joe Corvo from Ottawa, the Hurricanes are 10-2-1. Carolina, on the verge of its second Southeast Division title in three seasons, currently is seven points ahead of second-place Washington. The Hurricanes fell to Ottawa, 5-1, in their most recent meeting, on Jan. 17, giving the Sens a 2-1 lead in the season series. Following the home loss, Carolina defenseman Glen Wesley expressed his disapproval: "We got outworked, we got embarrassed in our own building and it's unacceptable. The bottom line is there's nothing to talk about. It's embarrassing, plain and simple.'' Look for Carolina to come out with a vengeance.

Historical hit of the week: On March 12, 1966, Chicago's Bobby Hull became the first player in NHL history to score over 50 goals in a season when he fired home No. 51 at Chicago Stadium in a 4-2 victory over the Rangers. To that point, only Maurice Richard (1944-45) and Bernie Geoffrion (1960-61) had gotten to 50. Hull ended the 1965-66 season with 54 goals, the highest single season total in the Original Six era (1942-1967).

Contact Mike Morreale at

Quote of the Day

Well, for me this one's concerning, the way we performed. Because three games in, playing a desperate team on the road, I was expecting something else than this. Right now, I'm just disappointed. The other games, I thought we did some things that you can build off your game. There wasn't a lot accomplished in tonight's game.

— Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards after a 4-2 loss to the Sabres on Monday dropped Columbus to 0-3-0
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