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Sabres back in action hosting resurgent Thrashers

by Brian Hunter
THRASHERS (30-29-12) at SABRES (34-28-8)


Last 10:
Atlanta 5-3-2; Buffalo 5-3-2

Season series:
Fourth and final meeting of the season. The Sabres are 2-0-1 against the Thrashers this season, including a 4-1 win at HSBC Arena on Feb. 23 in the most recent matchup. A trio of defensemen account for the leading scorers, as Tyler Myers has 2 goals and 3 points for Buffalo while Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom each have 1 goal and 3 points for Atlanta.

Big story: There were some who wrote the Thrashers off when they began to slump in the second half, but some key wins lately -- including a pair against the Eastern Conference-leading Flyers -- have them hanging in the playoff hunt, just four points out. The Sabres will be trying to push that deficit to six with a victory Saturday.

Team Scope:

Thrashers: There's definitely been value in attending a game involving Atlanta lately -- five of the last six and seven of 10 have taken more than the 60 minutes of regulation to decide. The Thrashers have also been successful in pulling out dramatic victories, coming out on top four times in overtime and once in the shootout over that stretch. The shootout win came Thursday against the Flyers, a back-and-forth game that wasn't decided until Rob Schremp and Blake Wheeler scored in the penalty-shot tiebreaker for a 4-3 triumph.

"It feels good," said Schremp, a waiver-wire pick-up from the Islanders. "To achieve that goal of making the playoffs would be huge and to be a part of it and pick up a point like that tonight … going from waivers things like that help you settle in and earn the respect of your teammates a little bit."

Sabres: Following three days off from game action, Buffalo once again gets the opportunity to put some distance between itself and the handful of teams like Atlanta still chasing it for one of the final two East playoff spots. The Sabres probably needed the rest, as they played three games in four nights and five in eight culminating with Tuesday's 1-0 loss to the Hurricanes, another of their pursuers. Ryan Miller stopped 32 of 33 shots, but at the other end Cam Ward turned aside all 40 he faced.

"We had a tough stretch here and we put ourselves in a good spot and this is really our last chance to kind of rejuvenate, get away from the rink which we did yesterday," leading scorer Thomas Vanek said on Thursday. "Now we've got two good days of practice which we haven't had in a long time, so I think it’s good for us."

Who's hot: Tim Stapleton has goals in consecutive games and three of the last five for the Thrashers. Evander Kane has 1 goal and 3 assists during a three-game points streak. … Vanek had 2 goals and 6 assists in a five-game points streak that was snapped in the Sabres' shutout loss Tuesday.

Injury report:
Atlanta forward Jim Slater (concussion) and defenseman Freddy Meyer (head) are on injured reserve, while forward Patrice Cormier (upper body) is out indefinitely. … Buffalo forward Jochen Hecht (upper body) is day-to-day. Forward Patrick Kaleta has been sidelined with a bone bruise to his left knee, while a knee injury has goalie Patrick Lalime out indefinitely.

Stat pack: The Thrashers have now played beyond regulation in 26 of their 71 games this season, almost 37 percent. … Since being scratched for a pair of games in late February, Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera has 2 goals and 13 points in 10 games.

Puck drop:
Lindy Ruff gave Buffalo off Wednesday before the team reconvened the following day for a workout and some important words from the NHL's longest-tenured coach.

"The message is we've put together a good run and now, really, this last stretch is the type of run where we've got to put together a good segment of hockey," Ruff said. "We missed some good opportunities in the Carolina game, we missed some good opportunities in the Toronto game. We're playing hard, we just didn't capitalize on some great offensive situations that put us behind the eight ball in the Carolina game."

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