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Capitals, Sabres meet clinging to playoff hopes

by Corey Masisak

CAPITALS (15-17-1) at SABRES (13-16-5)

TV: CSN-DC, MSG-Buffalo

Last 10: Washington 5-5-0; Buffalo 4-3-3

Season series: The Capitals have won the first two meetings of the season; they have swept the season series against the Sabres once in franchise history (1988-89). Both games this season were in Washington -- the Capitals have won just 23 times in 73 trips to Buffalo since joining the NHL in 1974-75.

Big story: These teams are level at 31 points, and the one that doesn't claim two more in this contest could be pushed to 14th place in the Eastern Conference by the end of Saturday night.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Washington did everything it needed to by winning the final three games of its most recent road trip to squirm back into the Stanley Cup Playoff race. The schedule also set up perfectly for a postseason push: The Capitals play seven straight games against clubs outside the top eight in the East.

Well, the Capitals started this stretch with a 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night after yielding a late goal to John Tavares. The prior time Washington lost to New York, it was just after a hot streak and triggered a three-game skid that nearly ended any hope of a sixth straight playoff berth.

This is the first of three road games in four nights, and the Capitals probably need four points to keep their fleeting hopes alive. Any fewer than that, and general manager George McPhee might be forced to consider trading Mike Ribeiro, who will be an unrestricted free agent in July.

Sabres: Lindy Ruff was fired after a 6-10-1 start, and though the Sabres haven't been winning a lot more for interim coach Ron Rolston, they have been collecting more points. Rolston's record sits at 7-6-4, and those extra non-regulation losses are the reason Buffalo still has scant postseason aspirations.

Buffalo's schedule isn't nearly as favorable as Washington's in the coming days. After this contest, the Sabres play six straight against teams currently in the top seven in the conference. Including this game, seven of the next nine are at home, but the Sabres are going to need to knock off teams well ahead of them in the standings to not be out of the playoff race in two weeks.

Who's hot: Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has seven goals and 12 points in the past eight games. … Sabres forward Tyler Ennis has two goals and five points in his past five contests.

Injury report: Capitals defensemen John Erskine (upper body), Tom Poti (back) and Tomas Kundratek (knee) and forward Eric Fehr (upper body) are all likely out. Ovechkin needed more than 20 stitches for a cut on his chin during practice Thursday but is expected to play. … Sabres defenseman Alexander Sulzer (knee) is out, and forward Thomas Vanek (upper body) is questionable.

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