As the season wind down, the stakes keep getting higher for the Buffalo Sabres.
Buffalo has picked a great time to get hot with only five games remaining and the Pittsburgh Penguins in town tonight for a 7:30 p.m. face off. The Sabres enter tonight’s game riding a five-game winning streak, their longest stretch of victories since winning six in a row from Dec. 29, 2009 to Jan. 8, 2010.
Buffalo is currently tied in points with Washington at 86, but the Sabres hold the eighth and final playoff spot because they’ve played one less game than the Capitals. If the Sabres lose in regulation, they’ll fall back into ninth place due to tiebreakers. Washington hosts Montreal tomorrow night.
Since Feb. 17 when they sat in 14th place in the Eastern Conference and 10 points out of a playoff spot, Buffalo has gone on a 14-2-4. The Sabres have the best record in the league during that stretch and Pittsburgh has the next best winning percentage with a 15-4-1 record in that time.
“It’s a great feeling when you start winning and everyone starts pulling together and working hard for each other,” said Sabres center Derek Roy
after today’s morning skate at First Niagara Center. “Going out there in practice and having fun and even in games, it’s the same thing, having fun and working together. We just need to keep doing the little things to make us successful. ”
The Penguins are coming off back-to-back losses against the New York Islanders and have not lost three consecutive games since they found themselves in the midst of a six-game losing streak from Dec. 29, 2011-Jan. 11, 2012.
“It’s definitely a statement game,” said Sabres center Tyler Ennis
. “Pittsburgh’s one of the best teams in the league and they’re good in every area. They work hard. It’s going to be a tough game and we know what we have to do. It’s the point of the year where we have to win and it should be a fun game.”
Tonight marks the first time the Sabres will see Sidney Crosby this season. The Penguins captain has 13 points in nine games since returning from a concussion that held him out of 60 games this year. Center Evgeni Malkin has shouldered the offensive load this season in Crosby’s absence and has continued to put up numbers since Crosby’s return. Malkin has nine goals and 10 assists in his last 10 games.
“They’re both tremendous players, both highly skilled on the rush,” said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. “…We know that they’re both world class. We know we’re going to have to pay special attention, but at the same time, we want that team to worry about how we’re playing, too.”
With defenseman Christian Ehrhoff
due to miss some time with a knee injury he suffered on Tuesday against Washington, Mike Weber
will return to the lineup tonight. Weber has been a healthy scratch the last four games after playing in 44 straight.
“It’s not fun coming out of the lineup but there’s nothing I could do about that,” Weber said. “Those are the things that are out of my control and I’m just going to continue to work hard and try to get better every day and when I get my opportunity, go in and play the way I was.”
While the loss of Ehrhoff will be felt – he’s averaged 23:03 of ice time in 66 games this season – defenseman Jordan Leopold
is confident in the depth on the back end.
“We have seven NHL defensemen and it’s unfortunate one of us has to miss. But now with the injury, it makes it pretty easy to put Webby back in,” Leopold said. “He’s been a big part of our team all year and he played well so we need him to continue doing that. It’s a collective group effort and whoever’s on the ice at whatever time opportunities present themselves, we need to perform.”
Today’s lines: Ville Leino
– Roy – Jason PominvilleCorey Tropp
– Cody Hodgson
– Thomas VanekMarcus Foligno
– Ennis – Drew StaffordCody McCormick
– Brad Boyes
– Patrick Kaleta
Leopold – Tyler MyersRobyn Regehr
– Andrej Sekera
Weber – Alexander Sulzer Jochen Hecht
, Nathan Gerbe
and Matt Ellis
skated as an extra line.
Ellis took the ice with the team for the first time since injuring his knee eight games ago against Ottawa. Ruff said that he’s “still a ways away” from returning to the lineup. Ellis was the only player today wearing a red non-contact jersey.
Gerbe will miss his eighth straight game with an upper body injury and Hecht has been out since Jan. 24 with a concussion.
The Sabres will hold a “Party in the Plaza” tonight for Fan Appreciation Night, presented by ADPRO Sports and Connors & Ferris.
Festivities will begin in the plaza area located near Perry Street and Illinois Street at 5 p.m. with live music from local band Strictly Hip. The party is open to all fans, and those without tickets can stay to watch MSG’s game feed on two large video screens in the plaza.
Perry Street will be closed between Main Street and Illinois Street during the plaza party. The Illinois Street entrances to the First Niagara Center Parking Ramp will remain accessible via South Park Avenue and Perry Street.
Food and beverages will be available for purchase before the game and will continue to be sold throughout. There will be a three beer limit per person. Coolers and chairs are prohibited due to the volume of fans expected to attend.
Once fans head inside, they can take advantage of family-friendly food prices from 5:30 to 6:30 at arena concession stands. Special Fan Appreciation Night merchandise prices will be in effect at the Sabres Store throughout the night as well.