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Down the stretch: Sabres desperate for points

Tuesday, 03.01.2011 / 10:03 AM / Countdown to the Playoffs

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Down the stretch: Sabres desperate for points
Tonight's Rangers-Sabres game is important for both teams -- one battling to stay in the top eight, one fighting to get in. That's not the only game with major playoff implications, however.
With 41 days left in the regular season the playoff races in each conference simply are on fire. Every game has added significance with points at such a premium as teams jockey for positioning. NHL.com is here to give you a Down the Stretch daily that will highlight what you need to know about that night's games.

Here is the installment for Tuesday, March 1:


Empire State of Mind: The lights will shine on the construction site known as Madison Square Garden tonight (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2) with the Sabres in town to play the Rangers. Both teams need to keep piling up the points, but the Sabres are on the outside looking in at the top eight. They are two points behind Carolina and the Hurricanes are in action tonight against Florida.

Buffalo has five points in its last three games and will debut Brad Boyes. The Sabres hope his scoring touch from two seasons ago returns. Boyes had 76 goals from 2007-09, but just 26 goals in 144 games since. The Sabres are 15-10-4 on the road, but winless in two games against the Rangers this season.

The Rangers are coming off a 2-1 loss Sunday against Tampa Bay, but the game featured the solid debut of newly acquired defenseman Bryan McCabe, who clearly will help the Blueshirts' power play. New York is seventh in the East, five points ahead of the Sabres and three points ahead of the Hurricanes. The last thing they want is to give the Sabres momentum.

New York was dealt a blow Monday when backup goalie Martin Biron fractured his collarbone in practice and likely will miss the rest of the regular season. Henrik Lundqvist will have to handle the load on his own, but with only 18 games remaining he's probably going to be fine. Clinching a playoff berth with a few games left would help.

Desert Showdown: Two Pacific Division teams nowhere near the Pacific Ocean battle in Glendale, Ariz., tonight with so much on the line. Four points and four spots in the Western Conference standings separate the Coyotes and Stars, who will play for the fifth time this season. Phoenix has won the last three.

The Stars were among the biggest newsmakers Monday because they chose not to trade center Brad Richards, who remains out with concussion-like symptoms but has been skating and appears on track for a return sooner rather than later. By not trading Richards, GM Joe Nieuwendyk sent a message to his club that he believes in them.

The Stars have won two straight after losing five in a row and have a tenuous hold on eighth in the most fluid conference in a long time.

The Coyotes are fourth in the West with 76 points, but they've lost three in a row since winning eight straight. They've given up 16 goals in the last three games. GM Don Maloney gave up forward Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto for defenseman Rostislav Klesla on Monday, who should play tonight for the first time since Jan. 22.

Staal in for Hurricanes: Carolina got maybe the best news of trade-deadline day when Eric Staal revealed that he will play tonight against Florida. Staal was crushed by Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen in Friday's game and missed Saturday's game in Montreal. He practiced Monday and declared himself "good to go."

The collective sigh of relief coming from the RBC Center and all the Caniacs could be heard across the hockey world.

Staal is an essential piece to the Hurricanes' playoff puzzle. Carolina will be playing a Panthers team that is down to bare bones now after GM Dale Tallon traded away McCabe, Dennis Wideman, Chris Higgins, Radek Dvorak and Bryan Allen to, of all teams, the Hurricanes.

Carolina also will have an eye on the game at the Garden between the Sabres and Rangers.

Central (Division) Scouting: The Predators and Blue Jackets find themselves outside the top eight in the Western Conference. They also both find themselves in Western Canada with essential points on the line.

The Predators, 10th in the conference, snapped a four-game losing streak with a 3-2 win against the Blue Jackets on Sunday. They're in a better position entering today, with 72 points and a game against the West's last-place team in Edmonton.

The Blue Jackets are 8-3-1 in their last 12 games, but still haven't budged from 12th place in the conference. They face a tough task in Vancouver, the West's first-place team.

For Nashville, it's the first of four straight on the road and an absolutely must-win, with difficult games in Vancouver, Calgary and San Jose yet to come. For Columbus, it's also the first of four straight on the road and it's also an absolute must-win since it trails in the playoff race with a game or two in hand on the rest of the teams.

Flames gearing up: Calgary has a huge week of games, which begins tonight in St. Louis and continues Wednesday in Chicago, Friday at home against Columbus and Sunday at home against Nashville. After tonight the Flames will play seven straight games against teams that are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

Just when you think you're safe in the Western Conference, you blink and find out everything has changed. Calgary had lost two in a row before winning Sunday. They play again in Chicago on Wednesday so it's essential that they pick up two points in St. Louis tonight. That'll at least give them some margin for error Wednesday, though it'll be very slim.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Quote of the Day

A piece of scar tissue breaks off, pinches the nerve, and every time you move your leg it's almost like having a root canal in your stomach and groin.

— Detroit Red Wings center Stephen Weiss on his sports hernia surgery