Double Minors: Scrappy win sets up Tuesday’s showdown

Things are falling into place in a very similar fashion in which they did last season. The Sabres have charged hard to the brink of a playoff spot and will face a Southeast Division foe, on the road, to basically determine who will steal the final playoff spot in the East.

Buffalo’s showdown in DC on Tuesday may just seal up the playoff bid for the two teams competing. The Sabres are in this boat after another hard-fought win. Last night’s 3-1 win over Minnesota was particularly impressive considering the Sabres had to travel (only from NYC) after playing the night before to face a team with a day of rest.

The road weary Sabres ended up throwing 37 shots on goal and played 40 minutes of hockey that looked pretty impressive. Perhaps the second and third periods looked good because the Sabres didn’t allow 16 shots like they did in the first.

Ryan Miller finished with 24 saves and was excellent when his team needed him in the first. He also made a pretty huge stop on a funky play by Christian Ehrhoff in the second. I’m not sure when Ryan Miller will get another game off. You have to think Friday’s game against Pittsburgh or Saturday vs. Toronto would give Jhonas Enroth a look, but points have become so valuable that he may not get another game.

Last night’s victory was a strong showing from a team that could have easily suffered a letdown. The Sabres again got great contributions from the Vanek, Hodgson, Tropp and Foligno, Ennis, Stafford lines on their way to three goals (really just two). Now they just need to outscore Washington on Tuesday.

  • Travis Turnbull has really acquitted himself quite well in his brief NHL debut. I’m not sure when he will be sent back to Rochester, I suppose it all hinges on the health of Pat Kaleta and Nathan Gerbe.
  • Considering the injured players on the Buffalo roster, I wonder where Lindy Ruff has Kaleta and Gerbe penciled in? Moving one of Buffalo’s fourth line players to the press box seems like a pretty easy decision to make. Cody McCormick or even Brad Boyes could find themselves sitting once Gerbe and Kaleta are back in the lineup. If Jochen Hecht was able to fully recover it would make things even more interesting.
  • Cody Hodgson has settled in nicely. I said this the other day, but I’ll say it again. He looks as if some practice time and additional rest to adjust to all the travel he had to deal with has gotten him back to form. I love seeing him skate with Vanek, it is a damn good line.
  • Let’s give Marcus Foligno number 71 next season, okay? I understand that Derek Whitmore is the current owner of that number, but obviously Foligno isn’t going anywhere. Time to let him pick his permanent number.
  • I’m beginning to think the off-ice officials in Buffalo don’t give out hits very often. Only 11 for the Sabres last night.
  • Two more powerplay goals for the Sabres, even though one was actually an ENG. That unit has been better lately, maybe not good, but better. If the powerplay was a little more potent the Sabres could be a very dangerous team to deal with.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Visit from Wild is another chance to advance

Tonight’s game is one of those that really makes me wish the NHL would switch back to white jerseys at home. The Sabres whites and the Minnesota Red uniforms are two of the best looking jerseys in the league, if only we got to see them this evening. A good consolation is that the Wild have a nice set of white unis as well.

The Sabres will need two points once again in order to keep pace with the Capitals in eighth place. The Capitals are idle until they meet this Minnesota team tomorrow. The Senators face Pittsburgh which is an interesting predicament because the Sens have been regressing but the Pens are not a team you would want to see in the first round.

This weekend schedule is tough for the Sabres playoff hopes. The Wild needed to travel but had a day off yesterday. They will play tonight against Buffalo with a day of rest against a Sabres team that played and traveled last night. They face Washington the very next day. Ideally you would want that schedule to be reversed.

Buffalo will need to play a responsible game against this Wild team. They are a methodical squad that can be dangerous. Dany Heatley has had a pretty solid year and always plays well against the Sabres. Also, Niklas Backstrom is one of those goalies that can absolutely lock a game down. He is also prone to rough outings if you get to him early. A hot start for the Sabres will be important.

The one edge I will give the Sabres is the fact that their three-pronged attack. If Lindy Ruff can leverage a mismatch, there will be a good chance to capitalize. I also think this could be a game to re-insert Mike Weber just for a set of fresh legs. Probably not the course of action I would take – Alex Sulzer has been too good – but I would understand the logic.

Highlighted Matchup

Lindy Ruff vs. Mike Yeo. Ruff needs to find the right matchups, shut down the few big guns at Yeo’s disposal and find the right lines to roll his scorers out against. His decision on goaltenders and his choice regarding the scratches could be important as well. Yeo’s choice in goalie will likely mean the man sitting tonight will play in Washington. Keep your fingers crossed that the Wild use Backstrom tomorrow.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

MIN: Niklas Backstrom

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Wild 2 OT, Xcel Energy Center, 3/6/2011