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Sabres, Bolts aim to keep playoff hopes alive

by Eric Goodman
SABRES (33-29-10) at LIGHTNING (32-32-7)


Last 10: Buffalo 6-2-2; Tampa Bay 5-4-1.

Season Series: The Lightning won the three previous meetings this season and aim for the first regular-season series sweep over the Sabres in franchise history.

Big Story: The Sabres will try to recover from two consecutive shootout losses as they continue making a late push towards claiming one of the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay is not yet out of the playoff race, but it will need to turn it around quickly after dropping five of its last seven games, including two in a row at home.

Team Scope:

Sabres: Gaining at least a point in games down the stretch is definitely positive for a team trying to make the playoffs, but Buffalo will need to start reeling off some wins if it hopes to sneak into eighth place in the East standings. While the Sabres have earned at least one point in four straight games and 13 out of their last 15, they still dropped two straight in the shootout to the Panthers and Avalanche last week.

"Any point you lose right now is a lot," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff told following the loss to Florida. "Even a half point would be a lot. Any point we lose right now is a lot. We’ve gotta move on to the next game and try to get two."

Lightning: Tampa Bay seeks to avoid a season-high third loss in a row at home as it faces off against yet another opponent where a win against is absolutely imperative. The Bolts' most recent loss was a 3-1 defeat at home to the League's best St. Louis Blues, in which the team did not reach the scoreboard until just over four minutes left in the third period. Monday is the fifth game of seven in a row at home for the Lighting and they have struggled with a 1-3-0 record, thus far. The one positive point from Saturday's loss was that Bolts' defenseman Brendan Mikkelson finally tallied his first goal in his 116th career NHL game.

"It has taken me way too long to get that first one. It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to turn that into a little more of a rally down the stretch," Mikkelson told's Peter Pupello after the game.

Who's Hot: Rookie forward Marcus Foligno has 3 goals and 2 assists over his first 5 NHL games for the Sabres. ... Veteran winger Martin St. Louis has a goal and 2 assists in his last five games for the Lightning.

Injury Report: Sabres' defenseman Tyler Myers remains out, serving the last installment of a three-game suspension. Forward Nathan Gerbe is still questionable for the Sabres with an upper-body injury that has sidelined him for the last two games, while forward Jochen Hecht is out indefinitely with a concussion. ... The Lightning continue to feel the effects of the injury bug. Besides Mattias Ohlund (knee), Dana Tyrell (knee) and Marc-Andre Bergeron (upper body), who are all out for the season, the Bolts will also be without captain Vincent Lecavalier (hand), goalie Mathieu Garon (torn groin muscle), defenseman Bruno Gervais (upper body) and forward Nate Thompson (upper body).

Stat Pack: Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, the League leader in goals this season with 50, needs just one more to tie his career high of 51 set in the 2009-10 season.

Puck Drop: Although the standings tell the story of Monday's game as a team in the hunt playing a club with just a slight glimmer of hope; the Lightning players are refusing to go lightly into what might be an early offseason.

"We're not giving up," Lightning forward Teddy Purcell said after Saturday's loss. "It's easy to get down on ourselves and easy to fold the tent in, but you really show who you are when you've got some adversity."

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