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Two big points on the line as Sabres visit Carolina

by Tal Pinchevsky
SABRES (30-25-7) at HURRICANES (30-25-9)

TV -- MSG-B (HD), FS-Carolinas (HD)

Last 10 -- Buffalo 5-3-2; Carolina 4-4-2.

Season series -- This is the second of four meetings between two teams fighting tooth-and-nail for one of the Eastern Conference's lower playoff seeds. In their first meeting on Jan. 13, Drew Stafford scored the winner as Ryan Miller made 27 stops to seal a 3-2 Sabres win in Buffalo. After this pivotal Thursday-night matchup, these teams will square off twice more in the next month.

Big story -- While it's not quite as cluttered as the Western Conference, the East is turning into a spirited race. Coming into Thursday's game, Carolina held eighth-place in the Conference by a measly two points over the Sabres, who hold two games in hand over Carolina.

But Buffalo might be looking past the Conference's final playoff spot. With a big 3-2 win at Madison Square Garden, the Sabres put themselves within three points of the seventh-place Rangers with three games in hand. With one more game against the Rangers along with the additional matchups against Carolina, Buffalo could make a move. But it won’t be easy, as the win at MSG marked the beginning of a season-long seven-game road trip.

Team Scope:

Sabres -- Against the Rangers on Tuesday, Jochen Hect's third-period goal proved to be the winner as Ryan Miller made 24 saves in the second and third period alone to preserve the big 3-2 win. The game also marked the arrival of forward Brad Boyes, who was acquired from the Blues on Deadline Day in exchange for a second-round pick.

Boyes scored a goal in his Buffalo debut, giving the Sabres offense the jolt Buffalo was hoping for when they acquired him from St. Louis. Playing on a line with Tyler Ennis and Tim Connolly, Boyes made an impression on his new team.

Hurricanes -- Carolina's hold on eighth place has never been flimsier. To their credit, the Hurricanes were able to hold on to the final playoff spot thanks to a 2-1 win over the Panthers on Tuesday.

Against Florida, Eric Staal’s team-leading 28th goal held up thanks to a sparkling 41-save performance by Cam Ward, highlighted by 18 stops in the third period alone. Despite the win, Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice was not pleased by his team's 22-shot performance.

"The biggest mistake that you make in this League is to take a look at a team and think that it somehow will get easy," said Maurice. "It’s just not an easy sport, and that's what's great about it."

Who's hot -- Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera has 4 points in his last two games while Hecht has 4 points in his current four-game point streak. … For Carolina, Cory Stillman has 3 points in three games since being traded before the deadline. Winger Erik Cole has 5 points in four games since a forgettable performance Feb 19 against New Jersey in which he registered a minus-4 rating. 

Injury report -- Buffalo defenseman Jordan Leopold missed Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury and Derek Roy (quad surgery) is on IR. … Carolina is fielding a healthy lineup.

Stat pack -- Boyes should be chomping at the bit for a potential playoff run. Despite having played close to 500 NHL regular-season games, Boyes has only four playoff games on his resume. But he made them count, registering 2 goals and an assist for the Blues in a 2009 first-round sweep at the hands of the Canucks.

Puck drop -- So how long has Lindy Ruff, the League's most-tenured coach, been at the helm of the Sabres? So long that his first season behind the Buffalo bench, was also the first-ever season for the then-recently-relocated Carolina Hurricanes. That 1997-98 season saw the 'Canes miss the playoffs and the Sabres make it to the conference final before being eliminated in six games by Washington. 

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