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GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs (43-24-10-3) at Buffalo Sabres (37-32-7-4).

TIME: Friday, 8 p.m. EST.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres could both use a victory. However, the Sabres will likely be playing with more desperation.

In need of some outside help, the Sabres will try to do their part and keep their slim playoff hopes alive when they host the rival Maple Leafs.

Buffalo trails the New York Islanders by three points for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference with two games remaining for both. The Islanders can clinch the last spot with a victory at Carolina on Friday, but a loss or tie by New York would keep the Sabres' playoff hopes alive provided they beat Toronto.

"We need to get out there Friday and Saturday and just give it everything we've got," Sabres goalie Martin Biron said. "Everybody in this locker room has got to come through."

The Islanders conclude the regular season Sunday at home against Philadelphia, while Buffalo finishes Saturday at Montreal.

Buffalo has done almost everything it can lately, going 5-0-1 in its last six and gaining points in 13 of 15 games in March (9-2-1-3).

Jochen Hecht scored two goals and set up two others in Buffalo's 4-3 victory over the New York Rangers on Wednesday in what was likely Mark Messier's final NHL game.

"We knew they were going to come out hard to play for Mark," Biron said. "The win is a big plus for us right now. We're not going to beat ourselves. Yes, we need help, but we need to win our games."

Biron is one of several Sabres that has elevated their play during Buffalo's late-season surge.

He has won six of seven starts while allowing 11 goals. Hecht has eight goals and 12 assists in his last 12 games, while Daniel Briere has six goals and 14 points in the past 14 contests.

Toronto, chasing Boston and Ottawa for the Northeast Division title, is also battling for fourth place in the East and home-ice in the opening round of the playoffs. The Leafs are currently fifth, one point behind the Senators with two games remaining for both.

"You fight all year for home-ice and people say 'does it matter?"' Toronto coach Pat Quinn said. "I think it does. I'd rather have it than not."

Quinn has been impressed with the way the Sabres have remained in the playoff race.

"It's terrific the way they've hung in," he said. "It's a real credit to their coaching and the players. But sometimes when teams are out (of the playoffs), they're tougher to play because they're loose and free, no pressure."

Gary Roberts and Alexander Mogilny each had a goal and an assist in Toronto's 4-2 victory over visiting Atlanta on Monday.

The Leafs, 4-1-1 in their last six, close the regular season Saturday at Ottawa.

STANDINGS (through March 31): Maple Leafs - 99 points, 3rd place, 2 PB, Northeast Division. Sabres - 85 points, 5th place, 16 PB, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Maple Leafs - Mats Sundin, 30 goals, 44 assists and 74 points; Tie Domi, 208 PIM. Sabres - Miroslav Satan, 29 goals; Briere and Hecht, 36 assists; Briere, 63 points; Andrew Peters, 136 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 31): Maple Leafs - Power play: 20.1 percent (73 for 363), 5th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.2 percent (316 for 380), 21st. Sabres - Power play: 16.1 percent (58 for 361), 15th. Penalty killing: 84.8 percent (289 for 341), 12th.

GOALTENDERS: Maple Leafs - Ed Belfour (32-19-6, 8 SO, 2.20 GAA); Trevor Kidd (6-5-2, 1, 3.26). Sabres - Biron (26-17-5, 2, 2.55); Mika Noronen (11-16-2, 2, 2.45).

SEASON SERIES: Sabres, 3-1-1.

LAST MEETING: March 15; Maple Leafs, 6-5, (OT). At Buffalo, N.Y., Tomas Kaberle scored with 75 seconds left in overtime after Toronto rallied from a three-goal deficit in the third period.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Maple Leafs - 21-10-7-1 on the road; Sabres - 21-12-4-3 at home.

Associated Press
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