Tonight in Buffalo the Rangers (22-17-4, 48 pts) not only look to follow up Thursday's 6-1 Garden victory over the Panthers with another solid performance when they skate against the Sabres (19-19-6, 44 pts), but the Blueshirts have the opportunity to end the Sabres faint of hopes of reaching the playoffs, as well. Should the Rangers defeat the Sabres this evening in regulation, Buffalo would officially be eliminated from playoff contention, despite a mad sprint to the wire which has seen them reel off three straight wins and victories in six of their last eight games heading into play tonight.
Of course with the Sabres playing that well, victory is far from guaranteed for a Rangers squad that is in game action for a second straight night. The Rangers do come in having played very well the past three weeks, as well, posting a 6-2-1 record over their last nine games following Thursday's dismantling of Florida at Madison Square Garden. Recent lineup additions Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard starred with a pair of goals each, while Ranger mainstays Rick Nash (1-2-3), Brad Richards (1-1-2), Ryan Callahan (0-2-2) and Henrik Lundqvist (34 saves) all stood out as the Blueshirts rode a strong start and an explosive finish to victory.
In eight games since being acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline Brassard now has three goals, six assists, and nine points. He will be riding a four-game point streak heading into play against the Sabres. Defenseman John Moore, who also arrived from Columbus in the Marian Gaborik trade, once again stood out last night playing solid defense, jumping into the offense with three shots on goal, and stunning everyone by pounding Jack Skille in his first NHL fight.
For Nash, his three-point outing Thursday snapped a three-game pointless streak and equaled his Ranger-best of three points in a single game, also reached on March 26th in Philadelphia. The two points for Richards marked the first time in five games that he scored a point, and was his fifth multiple-point game this season.
As they did last night, the Rangers will play without injured center Brian Boyle again this evening. Boyle did not make the trip to Buffalo following Thursday's game, remaining in new York to nurse an unspecified lower body injury. That means rookie Chris Kreider, who played eight shifts against the Panthers, will once again be in the lineup and that likely Taylor Pyatt---who earned his first point, an assist, in 25 games last night---will again take Boyle's place on the third line.
It is not yet known if Lundqvist will start tonight, or if Martin Biron---who spent the first eight-plus years of his career with the Sabres---will get the call in goal. Lundqvist was terrific Thursday night and has started nine consecutive games, and 18 of the last 19, for the Rangers. He now has made nine straight starts on two different occasions this season. Biron, who has not played since March 30th in Montreal, is 9-3-0-1 lifetime against his former club with two shutouts and a 2.68 goals against average.
The Sabres also have an intriguing choice to make between the pipes as both Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth have played very well in goal of late. Miller earned the win in Wednesday's 3-2 shootout victory in Boston, finishing with 41 saves. In the Sabres recent hot streak, Miller has backstopped four of the team's six victories, while Enroth won back-to-back starts last Saturday and Sunday---a 1-0 shutout of the Flyers and a 3-1 decision over the Lightning.
Enroth was in goal for the Sabres 3-1 victory over the Rangers on March 12th at HSBC Arena, a contest which infuriated Rangers head coach John Tortorella, who was furious with his team's effort following that contest. Enroth made 32 saves that night. Miller was in goal when the Rangers skated to a 3-2 shootout victory at The Garden on March 3rd.
Looking at their last eight games, the Sabres team defense and goaltending has been instrumental in the victories and exposed in their defeats. In the six wins Buffalo has surrendered just eight goals. But in their two losses--to Winnipeg and Montreal---Buffalo was outscored 9-2.
Will the Rangers effectively end the Sabres season tonight with a regulation win? Share your predictions below.