When the Sabres arrive at Bell Centre for their game on Saturday night, they'll be met by a Montreal Canadiens team that is fighting to keep its grip on the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
It took two periods for the Sabres to adjust to the speed and intensity of their opponent in a similar situation on Wednesday, when they met a desperate Toronto Maple Leafs team that was motivated by a string of four losses in five games. The result was a 4-2 loss in a game in which Carter Hutton made 42 saves.
"They came out with a strong start," Conor Sheary said. "We expected it, I just don't think we were ready. I think coming into tomorrow night, we should have a good start and hopefully come out with a win."
The Sabres are still looking to establish consistency over these last nine games of the season, which includes matchups with potential playoff teams in Montreal, Nashville and Columbus.
Sheary grew accustomed to playing for the playoffs during his first three NHL seasons in Pittsburgh, which included back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. That said, he reaffirmed his belief in the Sabres' core group after practice at Harborcenter on Friday.
Video: Riding the escalator with Linus Ullmark
"I think we know we have a good core group of guys in there," he said. "As far as the end of the season, we want to make sure we're building, we're striding in the right direction and building toward the future.
"I think we're a team that's going to be around for a while, not just make a splash. This is a big learning process for us and hopefully we can build off of that."
That's particularly true for the team's young players, including the recently promoted Alexander Nylander. The Sabres practiced again with Nylander skating on a line alongside Sheary and Jack Eichel on Friday, and they'll stick with that trio against the Canadiens.
"We're going to give him an opportunity with Jack and see what he can do," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "Jack's excited to play with Alex. He brings a skillset. I think he's just got to attack the game like he did in the third period [against Toronto] from the start of the game.When he does that, he's effective.
"He can use his speed, he creates offensively down low, he hangs onto pucks and I really like the release of his shot. It will be an interesting combination."
Nylander scored a one-time goal from the high slot in the third period against the Maple Leafs, giving him three points (1+2) in his last two contests. Housley complemented the 21-year-old forward for his ability to improve as that game wore on after a slow first 40 minutes.
Video: TOR@BUF: Nylander rips one-timer off the pipe
"We're facing teams right now that are fighting for their playoff lives or trying to change their position, so it's intense," Housley said. "It's great to have him experience that intensity. I think Toronto brought their game and I think everybody from the start of the game got off on our steps.
"He finally found it, though. He was working through it, that's a sign of maturity on his part, and he scored a nice goal."
For Nylander and the rest of the Sabres, these last nine games will be about matching that intensity on a nightly basis.
"Our effort, our compete level - a lot of the games we have success, it's there, and when we don't it's not," Sheary said. "I think we just want to focus on that. The results will happen if we play that way, but if they don't, I think we just want to feel good about how we played in the game."
Video: Phil Housley after Friday's practice
Zach Bogosian was back on the ice after taking a maintenance day on Thursday, while Matt Hunwick remained absent with an upper-body injury. Housley said that Hunwick is day-to-day and will not be available to play in Montreal on Saturday.
Here's how the Sabres lined up:
43 Conor Sheary - 9 Jack Eichel - 92 Alexander Nylander
53 Jeff Skinner - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 29 Jason Pominville
17 Vladimir Sobotka - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 23 Sam Reinhart
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
Extra: 20 Scott Wilson, 72 Tage Thompson
4 Zach Bogosian - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 62 Brandon Montour
6 Marco Scandella - 8 Casey Nelson
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark