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Sharpen Up: February 25, 2017

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

First stop, Colorado. 

As the Buffalo Sabres return from their bye week, they have 22 games remaining on their schedule. That's 22 chances to erode the six-point deficit that separates them from both third place in the Atlantic Division and the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The first of those games is tonight, against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. EST on MSG-B, with puck drop set for 10 p.m. It's the perfect reason to stay in and stay up late on your Saturday.

The final push begins tonight. Here's what you need to know.


Lineup news

Because they return from their bye week on the road, the Sabres had the advantage of being able to hold a practice once they got into Denver on Friday night. That's an important opportunity for players to get their legs going after some time off, particularly in the cases of Zemgus Girgensons and Sam Reinhart.

Girgensons had missed seven games before the break with a middle-body injury, while Reinhart missed two games with the flu. Both were back on the ice Friday, and as Chris Ryndak reported, both appear ready to play against the Avalanche tonight.

"[The break] probably fell in a good place for me, just to get a couple more days to heal fully," Girgensons said. "I get today, a good skate and [I should be] be 100 percent to go tomorrow."

The injury to Girgensons opened the door for Evan Rodrigues to join the lineup earlier this month, but his return doesn't signal an end to Rodrigues' time in Buffalo. Both Rodrigues and Justin Bailey were recalled from Rochester on Friday (they were sent down at the beginning of the bye week), and Rodrigues centered a line with Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis in practice. 

You can read more about what earned Rodrigues his chance to stick around in yesterday's practice report.

Afterward, Brian Duff caught up with Rodrigues for five good questions in a new edition of Sabres in :90, which you can watch below.

Video: Sabres in :90 (2/24/17)

About the Avs

The Sabres beat the Avalanche 2-0 in Buffalo on Feb. 16, a game the Sabres maintained control of throughout but struggled to get pucks past Colorado goalie Calvin Pickard. Colorado is 1-2-1 in four games since, and remains last in the NHL with just 35 points this season. They've also lost former Sabres defenseman Nikita Zadorov for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury.

There is some good news for the Avalanche, however. Defenseman Erik Johnson, who's averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time in all seven of his seasons in Colorado, is expected to return from a lengthy absence due to a broken leg. Forward Rene Bourque is also expected to return after missing time with a head/neck injury.

Pickard will get the start again in net for Colorado.


Scoreboard watching

Florida lost its game to Calgary on Friday night, so the Panthers' lead on the Sabres through 60 games remains at four points.

The Islanders, who sit six points ahead of the Sabres in the second wild card spot, play tonight at Columbus, while the Maple Leafs (six points ahead for third place in the Atlantic Division) host Montreal.

Other games to keep your eye on tonight: New Jersey sits two points back from Buffalo and hosts the Rangers, while Philadelphia (one point ahead of Buffalo) will take on Pittsburgh for a Stadium Series outdoor game at Heinz Field (8 p.m. on NBCSN).


On Tap

Chris Ryndak and Brian Duff are on hand in Colorado to provide updates once the team takes the ice for its morning skate, which should come around 1:30 p.m. EST. 

Sharpen Up will return tomorrow will full postgame coverage from the game against the Avalanche as well as a preview of Buffalo's game in Arizona.

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