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Red-hot Sabres head to Winnipeg

by Davis Harper
SABRES (30-27-8) at JETS (31-27-8)


Last 10: Buffalo 6-2-2; Winnipeg 5-3-2.

Season Series: This is the fourth and final meeting of the season, with Winnipeg holding a slight 2-1 edge thus far this season. The Jets scored a 4-1 win in the most recent meeting, also at MTS Centre, on Jan. 19.

Big Story: The Sabres enter Winnipeg playing their best hockey in months and will look to unsettle the Jets from their tenuous hold on the Eastern's eighth and final playoff spot. With wins in six of seven and goalie Ryan Miller surging, Buffalo is two points off Winnipeg's pace as crunch time nears. The Jets are finishing an eight-game homestand.

Team Scope:

Sabres: Written off as late as mid-February, the Sabres have clawed their way back up the Eastern standings with a 6-0-1 mark over their past seven games. While the team has shown improvement over that span (see also the Sabres killing 17 of 19 power plays over that stretch), Miller deserves the lion’s share of the credit. The 2009-10 Vezina Trophy winner has posted a 1.40 goals-against average while starting every game over the surge, including two straight shutouts heading into Saturday's game against Vancouver. Miller conceded three to the Canucks, but two of those came in the third period with Buffalo already up 4-1. Ville Leino scored twice within the first four minutes, and the Sabres never looked back in a 5-3 win. It was just Vancouver's second loss in regulation in 19 games.

"It was an important win for us," Miller said. "We keep having to battle our way back to get close to a chance of making the playoffs and we had a challenge with the Canucks, a powerhouse all year, and I thought we did a great job."

Jets: If there's an offensive antidote to Miller anywhere in the NHL, it could come in the form of Winnipeg's Evander Kane. The 20-year-old is on an impressive scoring streak, with seven goals and seven assists over his last eight games. That includes a 2-goal, 2-assist night in Winnipeg's last game, a 7-0 dismantling of the Southeast-leading Florida Panthers on Thursday. That win ended a two-game skid, and gave Winnipeg a valuable win over a division rival.

"They're a team that we're behind and it can very well be the difference of us being in the playoffs or not being in the playoffs so it was a big game for us," Kane said. "It was great to be able to prove to everybody that we're here to play and we have a playoff mindset going into the next 16 games here."

Who's Hot: Tyler Ennis had an empty-netter against Vancouver, and had an assist in four straight games prior to that.

Injury Report: For Buffalo, defenseman Robyn Regehr is doubtful for the game with a hip injury, while Cody McCormick (upper body) and Jochen Hecht (concussion) are out indefinitely. … Zach Bogosian is the lone Jet on the injury list. Bogosian is doubtful with a wrist injury sustained since the Florida game.

Stat Pack: While Buffalo has been killing all penalties in its path, Winnipeg has converted 10 of 19 chances over its past six games and ranks seventh League-wide with a conversion rate of 19.8 percent.  

Puck Drop: Leino – a prized free-agent acquisition over the summer who has struggled to just 20 points so far this season – snapped a 14-game scoring drought with his two on Saturday.

"It's been a tough season," Leino said. "It hasn't gone my way and it hasn't gone the team's way. But there's still a chance to make the playoffs and have fun here at the end. These are the games you want to play, when things count. And obviously every game counts now."

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