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Northeast-leading Sabres hope to finally solve Sens

by David Kalan
SENATORS (39-30-5) at SABRES (40-22-10)

Last 10 -- Ottawa 3-6-1; Buffalo 7-2-1

Season series -- Despite trailing the Sabres by seven points in the Northeast Division, Ottawa has had Buffalo's number, taking all four meetings so far this season, the most recent a 4-2 win at HSBC Arena on Feb. 3.

Big story --
The Senators have generally handled Buffalo over the past five seasons, but if the Sabres can muster their first win of the season against their northern rivals it could be the nail in the coffin of Ottawa's division title hopes.

Team Scope:

Senators -- Over the past five seasons there appear to have been three certainties in Canada's capital: death, taxes and beating the Sabres. Since the start of the 2005-06 campaign, Ottawa has handed Buffalo 24 losses in 34 regular season meetings, as well as a painful five-game loss in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. The Sens are currently riding an eight-game winning streak against their divisional foe dating back to last season, but that hasn't stopped Ottawa from facing a stiff test in the standings. Ottawa is seven points behind Buffalo for the Northeast lead, and for that the Senators can thank a recent stretch in which they went 1-7-1 following the Olympic break.

The team has won its last two games, but the offense continues to struggle, with Daniel Alfredsson providing the only consistent production -- the Swede has seven points in his last five games. Were it not for the recent stellar play of goaltender Brian Elliott, Ottawa's slim division title hopes might be nonexistent, but if the offense can begin to match the play of the man between the pipes, Ottawa will, at the very least, carry some nice momentum into the postseason.

Sabres -- Buffalo had a rough stretch of its own last month, which briefly dropped the Sabres to second in the Northeast, but since the Olympic break Lindy Ruff's squad has found its rhythm. The Sabres have won four in a row, while Ryan Miller has continued the strong pace he set in Vancouver, going 7-0-1 in his last eight starts with a 2.21 goals-against average. The winning streak, as well as Ottawa's recent struggles, has given the Sabres a nearly insurmountable edge in the division.

While Miller's staunch play -- he hasn't lost in regulation since March 3 -- is almost expected at this point, he has gotten plenty of help from the front end. Tim Connolly has seven points in the last six games, while Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy have combined for 20 points in their last nine. With Buffalo's many hands contributing to the offensive output, as well as the always strong presence of Miller, the Sabres have begun to habitually make light work of their opponents at just the right time.

Who's hot -- Elliott has had a solid year in net for the Sens, but "solid" does little justice to his recent performance. After allowing six goals to Atlanta on March 18, Elliott hasn't given up another -- he is currently on a 143:43 shutout streak. … In Buffalo, Jason Pominville has been pacing the offense with 11 points in the last eight games.

Injury report -- Buffalo could be shorthanded with Henrik Tallinder (head) officially listed as doubtful for Friday, while Raffi Torres (upper-body injury) and Patrick Kaleta (neck) are both questionable. … Ottawa's Filip Kuba is questionable with a lower-body injury.

Stat pack -- While Elliott's shutout streak is impressive, Buffalo has had particular difficulty figuring out the one-time Wisconsin Badger -- he is 7-0-0 lifetime against the Sabres with a 1.88 goals-against average. Miller hasn't been quite so lucky against the Sens, going 8-13-2 with a 2.96 GAA in his career against Ottawa.

Puck drop --
With the season winding down, both the Senators and Sabres appear to be safely playoff-bound, but if the two should meet in the postseason, Buffalo will need to be wary of the Sens' mental edge. Breaking the hex against Ottawa would have benefits down the road for the Sabres, but in the immediate future it would likely devastate whatever designs the Sens still have on challenging for the division crown.

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