Kukla's Korner Hockey
by @DaveDavisHockey on 12/21/10 at 05:30 PM ET
You’ll have to forgive us in Buffalo for playing the “must win” card before every game for the next 3 ½ months, but that’s what happens when your team is practically staring into the face of a double-digit point deficit behind a playoff spot before Christmas.
Two weeks ago, the Sabres got a much needed home win against a San Jose Sharks team that had just scored an impressive win in Philadelphia the night before and was nearing the end of a grueling Eastern road trip.
A similar situation presents itself tonight, and the stakes are high again. The Anaheim Ducks won 3-0 in Boston last night, and 24 hours later the Sabres desperately need to prevent them from playing a successful encore. This game will be Anaheim’s fifth road gig in seven nights.
Aside from its own play, part of Buffalo’s problem in its playoff chase is the behavior of teams they have targeted ahead of them. If Atlanta, Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers aren’t for real then they all have a funny way of showing it. Those teams just refuse to come back to earth and Buffalo has lost ground to all of them, with a mediocre 5-4-1 record in its last 10 games.
“With the hole we dug, 5-4-1 isn’t good enough,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “Our situation is we’ve got to win games. We only have two before Christmas (tonight and Thursday against Florida). We’ve got to win them both.”
Those comments were made in a media session that soon after ended abruptly when Ruff became irritated with questions surrounding the leadership of his group in the absence of captain Craig Rivet on the ice. The 36-year old veteran is back in the lineup tonight for the first time since November 20.
Ruff is right about one thing, though, and that’s the importance of beating Anaheim and Florida at home this week. With the World Juniors coming to town, the Sabres will be playing some extra games away from HSBC Arena over the next couple weeks.
Those road contests will entail two separate excursions out west. The timing for this isn’t exactly optimal. Buffalo News Sabres beat writer Mike Harrington put it best: “Long road trips probably aren’t the recipe for the Sabres to get back into this race.”
If it’s any consolation for Buffalo, the teams they’re chasing have some head-to-head matchups this week. The Lightning visit the Rangers, and the Thrashers will be in Boston. Someone has to lose in what Sabres fans should hope will be 60-minute games.
Yep, you know things are bad when you’re scoreboard watching in December.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.
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