The Sabres did well in defeating the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. Granted it took a while as they blew a one-goal lead late in the third period and had to go to the shootout for the 5-4 win, but a win's a win and at this point in the season, they'll take all the points they can get. Buffalo had lost their previous five home games against the Wild with their last win on March 24, 2012.
Those issues with losing streaks agains an opponent are popping up again for the Sabres, this time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Including a 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes back in January, Buffalo has lost seven in a row to the Carolina (0-5-2) and the last time they won was almost three years agon in Jack Eichel's rookie season. The March 22, 2016 win concluded a season sweep of the 'Canes and extended Buffalo's winning streak against them to four games.
Such is the topsy-turvy life of two struggling teams.
The Hurricanes presently have the longest playoff drought of any NHL team at eight years while the Sabres are right behind them at seven and presently they have the same number of points in the standings. Both Buffalo and Carolina have 58 points and are only three points out of a playoff spot although the 'Canes have played one more game than both the Sabres and Columbus, who holds down the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. In looking through that lens this game, Buffalo's 53rd of the season, has about as much meaning as a game could have with two months left in the regular season.
It's been rough and rocky travellin' for the Sabres since they burst on the scene with a franchise-tying 10-game winning streak. They followed that November run with a five-game winless streak (0-3-2) which was balanced out by a four-game point streak (3-1-0) through early/mid-December. Within that point streak was the last time the Sabres won two games in a row (Dec. 11-13) and despite a terrible record since then, they've managed to stave off long losing streaks by scattering seven wins over 19 games. It's how a team can fall from first in the league to outside of the playoffs but are still very much within reach playing meaningful games.
While Buffalo was struggling, Carolina was rolling. The 'Canes have won 11 of their last 16 games (11-4-1) and have gone from 13th in the East to 10th but have closed the gap between themselves and their Metropolitan Division foes going from 11 out of third place in the division to only four heading into tonight's game.
Sabres bench boss Phil Housley juggled his lines prior to the Wild game and ended up juggling some more in the third period. He apparently liked what he saw and used those lines at practice yesterday. Here's what they looked like:
It looks as if Tage Thompson will take a seat tonight as Larsson returns from an injury that kept him out the last two games.
Goalie Linus Ullmark came up with some big saves against Minnesota and was a big reason the Sabres got two points. Although he did allow four goals, Ullmark came away with a .911 save percentage and stopped all three Wild shooters in the shootout. Three games ago, the 25 yr old Ullmark put on a third-star worthy performance in a 1-0 loss in Dallas but sat the next game presumably because Carter Hutton is still perceived to be the starter and it was his turn. Buffalo lost 7-3 and Hutton was pulled for the third period.