"I think the players all understand," Ruff said. "I don't have to go talk to them and say listen, we've got to win a game tonight. We know that. We've said that for two months, we've got to win a game."
The Philadelphia game isn't an absolute must-win for the Sabres, but leaving Philadelphia without two points would make any hope of reaching the postseason a long shot.
The Sabres need to win at least one of their final two games -- Thursday against the Flyers and Saturday at the Bruins -- and hope for help from the Capitals and Panthers.
The Sabres need to finish with more points than the Capitals to edge Washington because the Caps win the first tiebreaker by having more regulation/overtime wins. They do have the non-shootout wins tiebreaker edge on the Panthers, but matching their 92 points would require the Sabres to win out and hope the Panthers lose their final two games -- Thursday against the Capitals and Saturday at home against the Hurricanes -- in regulation.
It's a big mountain to climb, but it's not like the Sabres haven't been here in the past. Last season, they needed a 9-1-2 run to close the season to get up to seventh in the East.
"We went through this last year," defenseman Jordan Leopold told NHL.com. "We caught ourselves in 12th or 11th place midway through the season and had to turn our season around. The same thing happened this year."
This season's run can be traced to the last time the Sabres were in Philadelphia. They took a 2-0 lead after one period only to see the Flyers score the next seven goals en route to a 7-2 victory which dropped the Sabres to No. 14 in the conference.
Since then, however, the Sabres are 15-4-4 and enter Thursday with 88 points, the same as the eighth-place Capitals.
"You break that game down, we had a great first period and came out at the start of the second and obviously gave them a couple," said Ruff. "Then we pushed too hard, we gave them some odd-number rushes and then all of a sudden they're down the ice and scoring goals on us. I think we've matured a little bit as a team. We've been able to stay in the tighter games. We had that long road trip, had to play a lot of one-goal games that were real tight and we came out of them a lot of times on the better side of it."
One key to keeping that good run going Thursday will be improved defensive-zone play. The Sabres' two best defensemen, Christian Ehrhoff (knee) and Tyler Myers (foot), are out. In the past three games without them, Buffalo has surrendered 14 goals and gone 0-2-1.
Part of the problem could be increased roles for the rest of the defense, but Ruff said the failings haven't been the fault of one particular player.
"It wasn't one person that made a mistake on those," he said. "And even if one person makes a mistake, we should have had secondary help, which in some cases I didn't feel we had good enough help. The breakdowns were usually three or four guys, wasn't just one. We could have played every situation differently. Usually you can go back and look at every goal and you can correct it. It's the secondary help; it's how you defend after you make the mistake that usually is more important than the actual mistake because there's lots of mistakes in the game. It's how you defend those situations that make the biggest difference."
If they can correct those mistakes, the Sabres know they'll be one step closer to their ultimate goal. And the fact that they've played so many important games in the past few weeks could work in their favor, as there's no reason for the players to treat Thursday's game any differently than they have in the past two months.
"We've done a great job getting ourselves in a position to put ourselves in a playoff spot or compete for one," said Leopold. "We've got another chance here to get points. We can't control what happens in that (Capitals-Panthers) game … all we can do is control what we can, and that's how we go out and perform tonight."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK