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Sabres looking to knock out Leafs

by Juha Mikkola
Sitting seven points out of the playoffs with six games remaining, the Toronto Maple Leafs' playoff hopes are slim; just don't tell that to the team.

The Maple Leafs are focused on Tuesday's matchup against division rival, and current eighth seed, Buffalo. Only a handful of Maple Leafs participated in the morning skate and the coaching staff closed the dressing room from local media.

The Sabres, on the other hand, are riding a three-game winning streak and can essentially eliminate the Leafs with a victory at the Air Canada Centre tonight. They control their playoff destiny and are more focused on the teams above them in the standings than they are with eliminating the Leafs. With a victory, the Sabres can move into a tie with the seventh-place Rangers ahead of tomorrow night's matchup with New York in Buffalo.

"We have been playing well the last three months and [tonight] is an important game for us. Toronto is going to be desperate," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We haven't been looking at pushing the Leafs back. ... We said if we can win a couple we can close the gap to the Rangers and Montreal. If we can put a nice little run together we can move up the standings."

The Sabres are doing just that, with an impressive 23-10-5 record since Jan. 1. The Sabres have scored 3.26 goals per game during the run and rank in the top 10 in goals and shots on goal this season. Combined with Ryan Miller's stellar goaltending, the Sabres have been getting it done at both ends of the rink.

"The goaltender complements the team and the team complements the goaltender. The guys make my reads easier," Miller said. "We are trying to focus on what we can control and it doesn't matter who we play. Tonight's game is a game we need to win."

Miller and the team will have to play without their top scoring defenseman, Jordan Leopold, who injured his hand against Florida on March 25 and may be out for the season.

Offensively, the team has had to play without Derek Roy since December, a burden alleviated by the acquisition of Brad Boyes at the end of February from St. Louis. Boyes has 10 points in 14 games since joining the Sabres and has been a key factor in the Sabres' strong play in March.

"Any time you can eliminate a team from the playoffs that is nice, because it is less teams chasing you," said Boyes when asked about tonight's game. "[Being from Toronto] my buddies might be pretty upset with me."

With the Sabres playing the Rangers on Wednesday in the second half of a back-to-back, Ruff said he would make a gametime decision on whether to start Miller for the second night or rest him in favor of Jhonas Enroth.

Notes: Toronto's Colton Orr skated this morning. Orr is recovering from a head injury and hopes to return before the end of the regular season ... Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson skated and continues to be the odd man out in the Leafs three-goalie rotation ... Sabres goaltender Patrick Lalime, who is recovering from a knee injury, practiced with the team, wearing a yellow jersey ... Buffalo's Mike Grier, who aggravated his knee against New Jersey on Saturday, also practiced.
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