Sabres hope to lock down division in home finale

Posted on April 6, 2010 by Patrick Moran

At the exact same time the Buffalo Sabres take the ice to face off against the New York Rangers, Northeast Division foe Ottawa will be in Florida skating against the Panthers.  At the end of the night what Ottawa does on the scoreboard could be irrelevant for the rest of the regular season.

It’s extremely cut and dry for Buffalo tonight as they play host for the final time during the regular season; defeat the Rangers and wrap up the division title in the process.  By doing so, the expected packed crowd at HSBC Arena will be in party mode for good reason; the Sabres will win their division for the first time since 2007.

They’ll also win the division if Ottawa loses, though Buffalo is hardly looking to back into anything.

Ironically if the Sabres get the job done against the Rangers tonight they may find themselves hoping Ottawa does the same, even if the club will never admit it.  An Ottawa victory would assure the club of no worse than a fifth seed, thus avoiding any potential first round matchup with the Sabres.

Ottawa has won all five games against Buffalo and it seems Don Edwards was manning the nets when they last beat them.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff doesn’t think about winning the division title just yet—at least he won’t confess to it.

“I haven’t put any thought into a division title,” Ruff was quoted as saying in the Buffalo News. “There’s only one thought and it’s winning in the playoffs. That’s important.

Before the Sabres can worry about adding a banner to the rafters they need to focus on a desperate Rangers team.  After winning seven of eight Buffalo has stumbled lately, losing consecutive road games in lackluster fashion to Toronto and Montreal.  A good case of home cooking could be exactly what the Sabres need.  At 24-10-6 the Sabres have been the third-best team in the league on their home ice.

Much like the hungry Montreal squad that shut out Buffalo last Saturday night, the Rangers are fighting for their playoff lives.  With 82 points and only four games remaining, New York is two points behind Philadelphia for the eighth and final playoff spot.  In fact they’re merely three points from Boston in seventh but just one from being passed by Atlanta for tenth.

They do hold a game in hand over Atlanta, Philadelphia and Boston—and that game comes tonight.

Rangers coach John Tortorella doesn’t mind playing on the road.  He told last night he actually prefers it that way with how his team’s played at home.  It has the team in danger of missing the playoffs for the eighth time in the last 12 years.

“We’ve been a good road team all year long,” Tortorella said. “We wouldn’t be in this situation if we handled ourselves a little bit better at home.”

The last thing the Sabres want to do is head to the postseason playing anything less than stellar overall hockey.  Their legs looked shot against Toronto last week and let Montreal dictate the game when the two faced off.

“Right now, I think we’ve taken two steps back and we’ve got to get back on track.” Sabres forward Paul Gaustad told

New York is surging. After dropping a 2-1 decision to Boston on March 27 the team sat seven points out of a playoff spot, but since has won three straight games and is 5-0-1 in their last six.

“We do not want to be the New York Rangers team that didn’t make the playoffs,” Brandon Dubinsky told the New York Post. “That’s really important to us.

The Rangers could be without pest forward Sean Avery and Ryan Callahan, who are still listed as day to day with knee injuries.

Ruff provided some good news regarding injured forwards Thomas Vanek, Tim Connolly and Patrick Kaleta.  While none will play tonight Ruff gave indication yesterday that Vanek and Connolly could be back by the weekend before the regular season wraps up.

While Ruff refuses to let Buffalo look ahead, it doesn’t mean we can’t.  Besides clinching the division tonight his team could vault past New Jersey into the number two seed if the Devils lose at Atlanta.

Buffalo currently trails New Jersey and Pittsburgh by a point each for second, although a Northeast Division title guarantees the Sabres no worse than the third seed.

Who they play when the playoffs begin next week is currently as unsettled as where they’ll be seeded themselves.  Montreal, Boston and Philadelphia reside sixth through eighth respectively, but only two points separate the three.

The Flyers are at Toronto tonight while Montreal is on the road against the New York Islanders.   The Bruins are idle.

Ruff told WGR-550 this morning he doesn’t have a rooting interest for any particular team.

“I don’t have a rooting interest and I really try to stay away from that,” Ruff said. “You gotta be careful what you wish for. Every team, 5,6,7,8, you’re facing teams that have different strengths and different weaknesses. We’ve gotta worry about how well we can play.”

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