No morning skate for the Sabres today in Toronto. We'll be chatting with Lindy Ruff in the 5 p.m. range and will have an update here. After Friday's 5-3 loss to the Penguins, the Sabres remain tied with Washington with 86 points and four games left.
Tonight's game in the Air Canada Centre is no gimme, even if the Leafs are 5-17-3 in their last 23 and on a franchise-record 11-game skid at home. Still, the Leafs are getting shredded by bag-wearing fans and media, who continue to mock their lack of "truculence" -- Brian Burke's catch-phrase upon his hiring.
Veteran Toronto reporter Howard Berger makes sense when he says the Leafs have to show something tonight. It really does seem inconceiveable that an NHL team can be on as complete a shutdown mode as this.
The Sabres must get four points in these two meetings. Period. Especially since tonight's goalie will be one of two untested rookies: Ben Scrivens or Jussi Rynnas.
So going around the race in the East, we see:
---The Capitals host Montreal tonight at 7 and there's this breaking news from their morning skate -- Nicklas Backstrom will be back in the lineup for the first time since suffering a concussion Jan. 3 and will be at his old spot centering for Alex Ovechkin.
---The Senators play a 1 p.m. game in Philadelphia. An Ottawa loss in regulation coupled with wins by the Sabres and Caps would leave all three teams tied at 88 points (although Ottawa would still have a game in hand).
---The Sabres and Caps can't forget about catching Florida, which has 90 points through its 78 games. The Panthers got just one point the last two days in Minnesota and Columbus, including a dreary 4-1 loss to the Jackets Friday. They are idle tonight then have a toughie Sunday in Detroit before hosting Winnipeg Tuesday and traveling to DC for a showdown on Thursday.
The Panthers lead the NHL with 16 OT/SO losses and are actually 37-41 when you add up their losses. As George Richards notes in today's Miami Herald, the Panthers have lost to Carolina, Edmonton, the Islanders, Minnesota and the Blue Jackets -- all since March 20! Too bad the Sabres didn't pull out that shootout point in their trip to Sunrise two weeks ago.
Florida is one of the worst potential division champs/No. 3 seeds ever. Caps could catch them for third and Sabres could actually pass Florida for eighth. Still possible. Buffalo could have the tiebreaker edge too. Right now, both teams have 31 ROWs and went 2-1-1 against each other in the season series. The next tiebreaker is goal differential and the Sabres are minus-8 while the Panthers are minus-23.
Hmmm. Maybe the Panthers are the group the Sabres would be most likely to finish in front of.