WILD (31-29-6) at SABRES (36-20-9)
Minnesota 4-4-2; Buffalo 4-4-2
This is the only meeting of the 2009-10 season between these teams. When they last met, on Oct. 23, 2008, Derek Roy
scored 44 seconds into overtime to give Buffalo a 4-3 win in Minnesota. The Wild held a 3-1 lead late in the third before Adam Mair and Thomas Vanek
scored 46 seconds apart to force the extra period.
Playoff mode has begun for the Sabres, who finished just out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference in each of the past two seasons. They are battling the Senators for first place in the Northeast Division and a top-three seed, and Friday marks the stretch of six games over the next 10 days.
"There are a lot of teams that are real desperate," Buffalo captain Craig Rivet said. "Home ice advantage maybe isn't the biggest thing. … We're on the other end, when we're going on the road we need wins too because we want to keep that third seed. It's that time of year where teams are buckling down on the way that they want to play and games are tough as we move into that playoff mentality."
The teams ahead of Minnesota in the Western Conference have been winning, which made Friday's 5-1 loss in Detroit all the more painful. The Red Wings and Flames are battling for the eighth seed and the Wild would like to be part of the picture as well, but they currently find themselves tied for 12th and on a four-game skid. They were down three goals just 10:15 into the game against the Wings.
"They came out and smacked us early," center Kyle Brodziak
said. "Jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Such a good team to try and come back on."
This concludes a stretch where Buffalo plays four of five games at HSBC Arena. The Sabres will begin a five-game road trip on Saturday in Detroit. Right now they're on a three-game winning streak, prevailing in overtime over the Flyers and Rangers followed by a 5-3 victory over the Stars on Wednesday.
"We don't want to stop there, we want to make it four," said rookie defenseman Tyler Myers
, who recorded a goal and three assists as the Sabres fired 43 shots on net. "It's always nice to have a breakout game like that when you get that many goals."
Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom
posted a shutout in his first start out of the Olympics and has allowed two goals or less in three of his four appearances, despite a 1-1-2 record. … Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller
has won his last three starts while stopping 79 of 85 shots for a .929 save percentage.
Backstrom (groin) and defensemen Brent Burns (hip) and Shane Hnidy (leg) all missed Thursday's game, while forward Guillaume Latendresse
left after taking a stick to the back of the neck. He was taken to a Detroit hospital as a precaution. The Wild are already without forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard
(concussion) and defenseman Clayton Stoner
The Sabres could get forward Paul Gaustad
(right hand) back against either the Wild or Red Wings. Forward Drew Stafford
(groin) remains out indefinitely.
Latendresse has scored a team-leading 21 goals for the Wild and 23 overall this season. … Myers is tied with John Tavares of the Islanders for second in rookie scoring with 36 points. Matt Duchene of the Avalanche leads with 47 points.
Minnesota could be headed into Buffalo without its No. 1 goaltender and top goal scorer, which would make an already tough challenge all the more difficult.