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The Sabres Observer

There’ll Be A Playoff Feel To This One

If you’re cruising the hockey dial tonight looking for games between Stanley Cup contenders, sure, you can see Tampa Bay vs. Boston or Detroit vs. San Jose.  But those teams really won’t have a whole lot on the line.

If you can’t wait six weeks for a taste of the excitement of playoff hockey, or at least as close to it as realistically possible in early March, then tonight’s game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres (7:00 PM EST, RBC Center) should do it for you.  Players on both teams are talking this one up for good reason.

The Sabres, who nine weeks ago were left for dead in 12th place in the East and ten points off the playoff pace, will finish the night in 8th place if they can win in regulation.  The Hurricanes are itching to create some separation.

“This is a huge game,” the Canes’ Eric Staal said. “Both sides know that.  It’s exciting. There’s going to be a lot of energy in the building. It’s always a great team to play against in this building. There’s that rivalry from the ‘06 playoffs.”

“Both teams will be up a little bit more for this one,” Sabres center Tim Connolly conceded. “These are big games for us, all these head-to-head games where teams are battling for playoff positions.”

From a Buffalo standpoint, the key to winning isn’t that complicated.  Play another ugly road game similar to what we saw Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, only this time with a bit more stability in the defensive zone.  There’s a difference between relying on Ryan Miller to play a solid game and depending on him to bail you out.

It’ll be Miller vs. Cam Ward in net.  Brad Boyes scored in his first game with Buffalo while Cory Stillman has two goals in three games since his return to Carolina.  The Sabres will scratch Rob Niedermayer and put Nathan Gerbe into the lineup.  Thomas Vanek is hobbled by an ankle injury but will play.  Injured Jordan Leopold will miss his third straight game.  Paul Maurice told the media that he’d likely keep the same lineup that scored a win over Florida Tuesday night, which would make Derek Joslin a healthy scratch.

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awould's avatar

SJ trails Detroit by 5 pts for #2 seed in West, and leads their closest Division rival by 4 pts. Also, Detroit/SJ have a rich history of playoff matchups. Also, they’re among the favorites to win the Cup every year, which means there will be quality hockey. Same goes for Tampa/Boston…. 2/3 seeds tied in pts. Not much playoff history, but should be solid hockey. But yeah, nothing interesting about these games.

Better to tune into the 8/9 seed matchup between two sucky teams in a sucky conference.

Posted by awould on 03/03/11 at 08:51 PM ET

@DaveDavisHockey's avatar

You’re right, aw.  That life or death struggle to finish #2 instead of #3 offers much more suspense.  Enjoy.

Posted by @DaveDavisHockey from Buffalo, NY on 03/03/11 at 09:23 PM ET

Puck's avatar

Wings game doesn’t count in the mix as schedule time is west coast so you can watch that after Buffalo/Canes or Boston/Tampa
Sabres have two games in hand over Canes and also play them two more times before end of season. It should be a good game as 2nd in 7 game road trip for Buffalo, but I think tight checking, low scoring goalie showdown.  The Boston game looks intriguing too, as winner either remains or claims 2nd spot in east. Thomas is playing great but Tampa can score a lot of goals.

I’ll take Sabres, Bruins and Wings for wins smile

Posted by Puck from San Francisco, CA on 03/03/11 at 09:57 PM ET

awould's avatar

You’re right, aw.  That life or death struggle to finish #2 instead of #3 offers much more suspense.  Enjoy.

Life or death struggle? You’re the one who blogs about this stuff dude. I’m just saying your argument is dumb and mine is awesome. Good hockey is good hockey and a better chance of that is with good teams instead of bad teams. And the side story of the other two matchups offers something special too. Now if you were advocating your precious Cam Ward/Miller matchup over, say, Phoenix/Edmonton, I’d agree.

Anyways, dig the sarcasm and enjoy your lame game. If you’re able to stay up past bedtime, tune in to watch some good hockey out West.

Posted by awould on 03/03/11 at 11:41 PM ET

@DaveDavisHockey's avatar

Stayed up past bedtime aw… your game is putting me to sleep so gnite.  You lied to me and I want my 2 hours back.

Posted by @DaveDavisHockey from Buffalo, NY on 03/04/11 at 03:37 AM ET

awould's avatar

yeah. sorry.

Posted by awould on 03/04/11 at 01:53 PM ET

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About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

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Email: dd@kuklaskorner.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]