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On the Sabres' beat: Live chat at 3 p.m.

Sabres ready to head to Washington for showdown; Miller named NHL's Second Star

Lindy Ruff didn't need to pull out a big standings board at practice today. The Sabres know they are tied with eighth-place Washington at 84 points. They know they play the Capitals on Tuesday.

They know the game means more than any they've played so far.

"I don’t think I have to sell anything," Ruff said in First Niagara Center. "They know where they’re at. They understand where we can get to and how big the two points is. I shouldn’t have to sell it this time of year."

Although Tuesday's showdown in Washington could end up determining which team gets a playoff position, it is not a do-or-die game. Both squads will have five games left to determine their fate, though the head-to-head matchup will mean a lot.

"It’s a big game obviously for us, but we’ve got more games left after that," Ruff said. "It’s not the end of the world, but we know we need to play well."

Ryan Miller, who has preached since 2010 not to make any one game bigger than another, kept that mantra going today. He said his peace as the NHL's Second Star of the Week, earning the honor after winning four games while posting a 1.26 goals-against average and .956 save percentage.

Washington's Alex Ovechkin was the Third Star, while Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin was named the First Star.

"It’s not something you do on your own, and it’s definitely a team effort," said Miller, who will start for the 29th time in 31 games. "It’s just another game in a long line of games that are meaningful that we had to win. I’m not going to make it any different.

"We’ve had some challenges in the last few months, and this is another one."

The Sabres, who have an afternoon flight to D.C., will have wingers Nathan Gerbe (upper body) and Patrick Kaleta (thumb) at their disposal. Both have been cleared to play, and Ruff will decide Tuesday whether to use them.

---John Vogl

Lindy Ruff

Ryan Miller

Sunday scoreboard watching: Caps hit the ice at 5

At least for a few hours, the Sabres are eighth in the Eastern Conference after Saturday's 3-1 win over the Wild in First Niagara Center. Buffalo fans rooting for the woeful Wild to fall on their collective faces last night will now be waving the Minnesota flag today as the Wild plays a 5 p.m. game in the Verizon Center against the Washington Capitals.

The Caps will draw even in games played with the Sabres today at 76. They have 82 points and Buffalo has 84, so a Washington win will have the teams dead even heading into their showdown in DC on Tuesday night. Wow.

In other Eastern Conference games today:

Florida hosts the New York Islanders, looking for a season sweep and to maintain their four-point lead over the Caps in the Southeast Division.

New Jersey is at Pittsburgh, with the Penguins looking to pull within one point of the Rangers for the top spot in the East -- and the foe for the No. 8 seed.

Boston is at Anaheim looking to add to its Northeast Division lead. Huge 4-2 win for the Bruins last night in Los Angeles kept both Ottawa and Buffalo at bay, when the Sens and Sabres could have pulled within one and three points, respectively.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

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Live from the FNC: Sabres vs. Wild

Lindy mum as usual but starter has to be Miller

Maybe come 6:30 tonight when the warmups start, I'll be proven wrong. But I think we've seen the last of Jhonas Enroth for this season.

Ryan Miller has been one of the best players in the entire NHL since the all-star break (16-3-5, 1.90 GAA, .936 save percentage). It seems inconceivable the he doesn't play tonight against the Minnesota Wild in First Niagara Center. There's two days off before Tuesday's showdown in Washington and two more days before the Penguins come to town next Friday.

Lindy Ruff rarely says who is starting in goal the day of a game. He's joked with me a couple times over the years that he'd have to kill me if he told me. He wasn't budging today when I futilely asked again.

"They know who's playing," a smirking Ruff said after his team held a meeting. "I'm not going to tell you. I want the opposition to guess. I made a decision earlier in the week what the schedule is going to be and we're sticking to it."

Realistically though, it has to be Miller. Enroth hasn't played badly, but he also hasn't won a single game since Nov. 26. You don't risk what are potentially the easiest two points left on your schedule by playing him at this point. (The Wild is 13th in the West and just 11-25-7 since mid-December).

The Sabres can take over eighth place with a point tonight but they of course want two. They can pull even with Ottawa for seventh if the struggling Senators lose in regulation to red-hot Pittsburgh and Buffalo wins here. They can even pull without three points of Boston with a win and a Bruins loss at Los Angeles.

With all that at stake, you ride Miller.

"There's a ways to go to get Boston in play yet," Ruff said. "But the fact we've put Ottawa in our sights is important. It looked like a week ago there was going to be one spot up for grabs and now there's probably four teams battling for two."

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Saturday scoreboard watching: Is a Northeast Division title really possible?

The Sabres' impressive 4-1 win over the Rangers Friday night in Madison Square Garden sets them up for some interesting scenarios with seven games left. Overall, Buffalo is 17-5-5 in its last 27 games and 5-0-2 in its last seven. Heading into tonight's game against the Wild in First Niagara Center, the Sabres are 6-0-2 in their last eight at home.

Want to get maybe a little stupid for a second? Forget nipping the Capitals and finishing eighth in the East. How about winning the Northeast Division and claiming a No. 2 or No. 3 seed? It's suddenly in play.

If the Sabres win tonight and the slumping Bruins lose at Los Angeles, which has won six straight to take over the Pacific Division lead, Buffalo would be just three points out of the Northeast lead (Boston would, however, still have two games in hand).

On Jan. 23, two days after the loss in St. Louis that was their 12th straight on the road, the Sabres were 21 points back. The Bruins have gone 11-15-1 since while the Sabres have put up their 17-5-5 run. Incredible. A win tonight also puts Buffalo two points behind idle Florida (the Panthers would also have two games in hand).

Now, the games in hand make it extremely difficult for the Sabres to actually catch either Boston or Florida. But the fact we can even write the above paragraphs is astonishing in itself given where the Sabres have come from. Here's a look at last night's highlights.

The Sabres have 82 points, tied with idle Washington after the Caps' meltdown last night at home, where they blew a 3-0 lead and lost a 4-3 overtime decision to Winnipeg. I had bid adieu to the Jets for the season on Twitter after the third Washington goal but now they're back in it. Whoops! Winnipeg has 78 points and a game in hand on both the Sabres and Caps heading into its toughie tonight at 7 in Nashville.

Take a look at the Jets' wild comeback in Washington:

Meanwhile, Ottawa is in panic mode after Friday's 5-1 loss at Montreal. Habs forward Erik Cole scored the fastest hat trick in the Habs' storied history by putting his team in a 3-0 lead in the first 5:41 of the game. 

Reeling Ottawa hosts surging Pittsburgh tonight at 7 then plays Monday night in Winnipeg. The Sens, just 3-5-2 in March, still have trips left to Philly and New Jersey and a home game with Boston. Whoa. (Pittsburgh, by the way, is 13-0-1 since its Feb. 19 loss at First Niagara Center). The Capitals are off tonight and get their crack at hosting the Wild on Sunday before hosting the Sabres Tuesday in Verizon Center.

Speaking of Minnesota, here's a cautionary stat for you on the 13th-place team in the West: The Wild have won four straight in Buffalo and haven't lost here since their first visit on Nov. 17, 2000. Fair warning. Sabres need to keep taking care of business. Two points tonight and it's their first four-game winning streak since the Lucic game in November ended their only one this season.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

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Live from Sabres at Rangers

Sabres' Ruff focused on Rangers, but coach won't be shy with out-of-town scoreboard

NEW YORK -- The Sabres will have their hands full tonight. They play the New York Rangers -- the top team in the Eastern Conference -- and the raucous crowd in Madison Square Garden will be roaring and chanting.

Still, whenever there's a chance, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff will look away from his game. Eighth-place Washington, with just a one point lead over the Sabres, hosts Winnipeg, which is four points back of Buffalo with one fewer game played. The out-of-town scoreboard will earn more than just a peek.

"I look all the time," Ruff said this evening in the World's Most Famous Arena. "I don’t peek. I just look. It’s that time of the year. There’s no use kidding anybody. Some people say they don’t watch. They’re lying to you. For the most part, it’s our livelihood, we want to be there.

"You focus on your job, but at the same time, even last night I’m watching the Washington-Philly game, keeping an eye on it, knowing the fact we’ve got to play them in a little bit. But you’re interested in how they’re making out."

For the full audio of Ruff's pregame chat, click the audio file below.

---John Vogl

Lindy Ruff

Photo


Sabres' scoreboard watch: Buffalo at Rangers, Winnipeg at Washington

NEW YORK -- Only 16 days remain in the NHL season, and this one could have a substantial impact on who makes the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

The three teams with the best chance to earn the eighth and final spot play tonight. The Sabres visit the first-place New York Rangers and are sure to face a test in Madison Square Garden. Buffalo is on an 11-2-4 run.

"They've got a chance for probably first overall in the league, and they'll push hard for that," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "At this time of year you want to play good hockey. You want to go into the playoffs on a high, and the fact you clinch I don't think makes that big of a difference."

Eighth-place Washington, meanwhile, will host Winnipeg. The Capitals are one point up on the Sabres with an equal number of games played, while Winnipeg is five back of Washington with one fewer game played.

"We've got a big game [today] against Winnipeg, who we feel is going to be maybe a make-or-break game in our season," Washington forward Troy Brouwer told reporters.

Both games start at 7 p.m.

---John Vogl

Sabres keeping mind-set that they have yet to accomplish anything

There is no reason to exhale in Sabreland. Just because the team finally has the same number of points as eighth-place Washington -- thanks to Wednesday's 3-0 victory over Montreal -- doesn't mean Buffalo can relax.

The Sabres are focused on passing Washington, a quest that restarts Friday in New York against the Rangers.

"We haven’t got anything right now, and it’s the point we’ve tried to make," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said today after practice in First Niagara Center. "We’ve worked hard to get to this spot, but we don’t have anything. We know how tough the schedule is ahead of us. We can’t take a game for granted.

"There’s teams around you. Winnipeg is right there. We’re right there with Washington. Carolina has actually moved up a little bit. So we haven’t achieved anything, and we know that as a team. We know that we’re going to have to win some games that some people are going to expect us maybe this is going to be too tough a task."

One of those games is Friday. The Rangers lead the Eastern Conference and are one of only two teams in the NHL to have clinched a playoff spot, joining St. Louis.

"They’ve got a chance for probably first overall in the league, and they’ll push hard for that," Ruff said. "At this time of year you want to play good hockey. You want to go into the playoffs on a high, and the fact you clinch I don’t think makes that big of a difference."

Sabres left wing Nathan Gerbe, who has an upper-body muscle strain, skated on his own before practice. He has missed four games.

"He’s progressing," Ruff said. "He skated today before practice. He’s feeling better. He’ll skate again tomorrow. He won’t make the trip but will skate on his own. It looks like now he’s starting to make some good progress."

---John Vogl

Lindy Ruff

Sabres' scoreboard watch: Capitals at Flyers

With only 17 days left in the NHL season, nearly every one will have a game that impacts the Sabres and the Eastern Conference playoff race. Here's a look at today's main event:

Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers, 7 p.m.

The Sabres and eighth-place Capitals have the same number of points. Washington has played one fewer game, but the teams will be equal after tonight.

The Flyers have won the last two meetings after Washington won the series opener in Philadelphia. Alex Ovechkin has five goals in the last four games, and he's tormented the Flyers throughout his career with 22 goals in 25 games.

---John Vogl

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Live from the FNC: Sabres vs. Habs

Turnbull gets the call to replace Kaleta

Travis Turnbull's phone rang Tuesday night in Rochester and it was Amerks coach Ron Rolston calling at an odd time. Turnbull immediately figured that was a good thing.

"Ron called me and asked me what I was doing. And I kind of had the feeling [news of a callup] was why he was calling me after dinner," Turnbull said today after joining the Buffalo Sabres for tonight's game against Montreal in First Niagara Center. "It was probably the best thing I've ever heard in my life.

"I'm a guy that really appreciates this. It's so surreal. The feeling is nothing that I've ever really felt before. It's something each and every one of us works for your entire life. To finally be here and get an opportunity to play for the Sabres tonight is unbelieveable."

Turnbull is a 6-foot, 193-pounder the Sabres signed out of the University of MIchigan in 2009. He's played since in Portland and Rochester, and has 12 goals, 15 assists and 94 penalty minutes for the Amerks this year while playing mostly center. He's the son of former NHL player Perry Turnbull, and was born in St. Louis while his dad was playing for the Winnipeg Jets after several years playing for the Blues.

Turnbull will wear No. 65 and replace Patrick Kaleta, who was injured Monday in Tampa and will be out "probably more than day to day" with an upper-body injury (Kaleta was seen in the locker room with a cast on his hand and is believed to have a broken thumb). He could be in the middle between Brad Boyes and Cody McCormick.

"We're replacing the same kind of player, an agitator, scrappy kid who plays on the edge," Ruff said of Turnbull "He's really played hard down there. You bring him in and you're looking for a fourth-line role, there's a couple of choices but Ron thought he'd be the best guy for us. It's a win-win. He's got some good hands, good speed, is a real competitive kid so he'll fit right where he's playing."

Boyes and Derek Roy were excused from skating this morning because they skated yesterday when most of the rest of the team took the day off. Tyler Myers returns from his three-game suspension. The Sabres will go with six defensemen, but Mike Weber and Alex Sulzer both came off the ice at the same time so there's no way to tell who will be a scratch.

The Sabres can pull into a tie with idle Washington for the final playoff spot in the East with the win, although the Caps would still maintain a tiebreaker edge.

Click below for audio from Turnbull and Ruff.


Travis Turnbull


Lindy Ruff

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Sabres make Turnbull an emergency recall

Some surprising news from the Sabres Tuesday night -- they have called up Travis Turnbull on an emergency basis from the Rochester Amerks. Turnbull, 25, would make his NHL debut if he plays Wednesday against Montreal.

The Sabres clearly have some sort of injury or illness among the forwards that they are concerned enough about to need another body. Because they didn't practice Tuesday it's hard to tell who it might be.

Thomas Vanek has been largely invisible in recent games and is clearly bothered by neck problems in the wake of the check he took March 7 in Boston from Johnny Boychuk. Another candidate might be Patrick Kaleta, who went on the ice Tuesday with Tyler Myers and may have been testing some sort of injury.

We'll have to wait for Wednesday's morning skate to see what's up. Turnbull has 12 goals, 15 assists and 94 penalty minutes this year for Rochester. He was a 2009 free-agent signing from the University of Michigan. He's the son of Perry Turnbull, a veteran of 608 NHL games in the 1980s.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Myers ready for return, enjoying Foligno's outburst like everyone else

The Sabres defense held up pretty well over the two games in Florida and the team will get a big addition -- literally -- for Wednesday's game against Montreal as Tyler Myers returns off his three-game NHL suspension for drilling Habs forward Scott Gomez last week.

Myers was among a handful of players who took the ice for a brief skate this afternoon in First Niagara Center as the players came to the building for a quick meeting, commonplace late in the season when rest is more important than practice. He's been skating with the team for the last week and said he's plenty refreshed for the last nine games of the season.

"Last night I thought was one of our best efforts of the year," Myers said of the 7-3 win at Tampa Bay. "I think the score showed that and with nine games left we have to keep that going. It's always good to see the guys do well when you're not playing. As hard as it is to watch, it's good to see we got points."

Does Myers think he better watch his back tomorrow against the Habs?

"I'm going to approach it like any other game," he said. "It's in the past. I didn't mean to hurt him. It's not my intention to go in and kill a guy like that. Whatever happens, happens. I'm just going to focus on two points."

The Sabres have been getting a ton of points lately from the line of Tyler Ennis centering Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford. Foligno has five goals and two assists in five games since his recall from Rochester and the line has a stunning 11 goals, 25 points and combined plus-22 rating in that span.

"We know where each other is going to be and what each other is going can do," Foligno said. "Staff is really big and strong and Ennis is just a waterbug out there. Give those guys space and time and we're going to be dangerous in the offensive zone."

"It's fun to watch them," said coach Lindy Ruff. "They're making a lot of good plays, shown real good creativity in the offsensive zone. They really like playing with each other. Every time you put them out there, you feel like you have a chance to score."

Myers made his mark like most rookies do, in October (of 2009). Few guys jump on the scene in the heat of the March playoff push like Foligno.

"I remember when I first stepped in, it was a pretty tough adjustment," Myers said. "I can imagine what he's going through. He's doing very well,  certainly exceeding expectations."

Ruff said Nathan Gerbe is still struggling to come back from his upper-body strain and that Matt Ellis' knee is improving but that the center is not close to skating. Ruff said he's going to keep all seven of his defense playing, so Mike Weber or Alexander Sultzer may not be a daily scratch now that Myers and Andrej Sekera are back.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Audio: Sabres revel in convincing victory

TAMPA, Fla. -- After seven straight close games, the Sabres finally got a much-needed rout. They trounced the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-3.

"Those are the games you don’t really want to let off the gas pedal because you don’t know when you’re going to get another game like that," rookie wing Marcus Foligno said. "It was great."

To hear from more Sabres, click the files below.

---John Vogl

Lindy Ruff

Jason Pominville

Ryan Miller

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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