The Sabres have gotten a lot of help to get back into the playoff race. And they've done plenty of work on their own, going 19-10-4 since the new year. They enter tonight tied for eighth place with Carolina with two games in hand. They will play both of those games (tonight against Atlanta, Sunday against Nashville) before the Hurricanes get back on the ice again Tuesday.
They do, however, need to win these head-to-heads. The Sabres didn't put away Toronto last week when they had a chance, nor did they put away the Hurricanes Tuesday night. Now come the Thrashers for a last-stand game. Atlanta is four points back having played one more game, and is on a 4-1-1 run that includes two wins over Philadelphia. That's a pretty big answer to a 2-9-2 slide.
"There's nobody that's going to go away and we don't need teams to go away," coach Lindy Ruff said today. "We just need to take care of our own business and that's a great situation to be in. We're not Toronto. We're not Atlanta and we're not Jersey. We've been in that situation and that's a lot tougher situation to be in.
"We went out on a road trip and worked extremely hard to get where we're at. Let's just take care of business here."
After losing to Carolina Tuesday, the Hurricanes fell to the Leafs on Wednesday. The Leafs then fell Thursday at Florida and the Devils have dropped two straight to finally halt their momentum. Looked like the Sabres were going to get a big assist last night from the Islanders, but they allowed Carolina's tying goal inside the final five minutes and lost to the Canes in overtime, 3-2.
Still, Ruff is undaunted. The Sabres aren't chasing like they were in 2008 and 2009 when they fell short. Remember, he's calling it a "best-of-12": If the Sabres win seven of the last 12, they're almost certain to be in.
"We're in great position. We just have to win games,"Ruff said. "We don't have to look over our shoulder. We just have to put the work in. If we put the work in and create the opportunities, our key guys are going to have finish and take advantage of those situations. But it starts with getting the work done."