Only the Sabres stand in the way of a satisfying 5-2 homestand for the Rangers, who will spend the next three games on the road in their quest to retain the top spot in the Eastern Conference as the regular season winds down.
But the Sabres will not roll over. In fact, they have been one of the hottest teams in the league and have plenty to gain themselves. The Sabres, knocking on the door of the final playoff berth in the East, have won two in a row in a 16-5-5 run. With 80 points, the Sabres will likely have to win at least five of their last eight games.
In a way, the Sabres are following the path taken by the Rangers in recent seasons. “Since I’ve been here,” said Marc Staal, “it’s been scratch and claw just to get in. It takes a lot out of the team when you’re playing that desperate for that long. It’s definitely nice to be able to clinch as early as we have, but at the same time, we have to keep looking to get better.”
Along with Ryan Miller, 11-1-3 in his past 15 games and surrendering only 29 goals, some youngsters have helpedthe Sabres. Tyler Ennis has eight goals and 11 assists during the 26-game charge. Marcus Foligno, 20, the son of former Sabre Mike, has five goals and two assists in six games since his callup from the AHL.
The Rangers (46-20-7) are 3-0 in the season series against the Sabres, but only the first game, a 4-1 win with Martin Biron in net back on Dec. 10 in Buffalo, wasn’t close. The last two games have needed a shootout and overtime to decide matters. Ryan Callahan, whose overtime winner clipped the Wings on Wednesday, also scored in the extra session in a 3-2 win here on Feb. 22. A shootout decided the Feb. 1 match, 1-0, in Buffalo, when both Miller and Henrik Lundqvist were awarded shutouts.
For the Blueshirts, the 100-point mark, last reached in 2005-06, would be tied with a point against the Sabres. A win would put the team at 101 points, the most since the 112-point Stanley Cup season of 1993-94.“We’re starting to play how we were playing earlier in the year,” said Callahan, whose 27 goals are a career-high. “It’s an important time of the year, and we’ve got to keep building.”