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Buffalo's Outside Chance

March 31, 2009 - Matt Spielman
So here we stand. The Sabres have seven games remaining and assuming the New York Rangers don't fall apart in seventh place, there is one playoff spot remaining for three teams to fight over. In two of the three seasons since the lockout, 92 points has been the cutoff to reach the playoffs while Boston needed 94 points to make it to the postseason a year ago. For simplicity's sake, we'll say teams need 92 points to make the playoffs.
We'll begin with the Rangers. Of the four teams fighting for the Nos. 7 and 8 spots, the Rangers have the easiest road, already having 89 points. But New York also has just five games remaining. It seems easy enough for the Rangers to gain three points in their final five games, but let's take a look anyways. On Thursday, New York will travel to Carolina to take on the Hurricanes and Saturday they will go to Boston before hosting Montreal and Philadelphia next week. New York closes the schedule at the Flyers next Sunday. I see the Rangers winning at home against Montreal and probably picking up at least an overtime point somewhere else to give them the magical 92 points that I think will be needed to make the playoffs.
Next up is Montreal. The Canadiens have been struggling mightily as of late, but only need four points in their final six games to reach 92. Montreal is at the Islanders and Maple Leafs before hosting Ottawa. Then the Canadiens travel to the Rangers and Boston before closing at home against Pittsburgh. If Montreal wins one of its first two road games, I think it will squeak out the final two points against some teams that may be looking to rest up heading into the playoffs, but if the Canadiens fall to both the Islanders or Maple Leafs, it could be a long offseason for Bob Gainey. I'm going to say they falter and come up short.
That leaves Florida and Buffalo for the No. 8 spot.
The Panthers have five games remaining after last night's win over Ottawa. With 87 points, that puts Florida five points away from 92 points. The Panthers host Atlanta and Pittsburgh this weekend before traveling to Philadelphia and Atlanta next week. Florida closes the season next Saturday at home against Washington. My crystal ball shows Florida losing to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, leaving the team needing to win both games against Atlanta and salvaging at least a point against the Capitals to reach 92 points. That will prove a tough task.
Finally we have the hometown Sabres. With as streaky as the team can be, it is very hard to predict what Buffalo will do tonight let alone over its final seven games, but I'll give it a shot. A win tonight at Atlanta is a must, which will give the Sabres 84 points with six games remaining. I'm going to go a little out of order here and throw the Detroit game out the window. That leaves the Sabres with five games to pick up eight points. Two points at Toronto are a must and with New Jersey struggling lately, another two at home Saturday are a must. Now we're down to four points in the three remaining games. Assuming Buffalo can steal two points at Washington or at Carolina, that will put the Sabres in pretty good shape to control their own destiny during their afternoon tilt with Boston next Saturday at HSBC Arena. I wasn't crazy about a Saturday afternoon game to end the season, but think of the pressure the Sabres could put on Florida or Montreal that night if they can move into the No. 8 spot just before the Panthers or Canadiens drop the puck on their games.
It's an extremely optimistic view to take at this point in the season, but if the confident, hard-working Sabres can come out of the locker room each game until the end of the season, I think they can charge into the postseason after all of the downers this season has brought.
Buffalo (82 points, 7 GR)
Wednesday @ Atlanta
Friday @ Washington
Saturday vs. New Jersey
Monday vs. Detroit
4/8 @ Toronto
4/9 @ Carolina
4/11 vs. Boston
Florida (87 points, 5 GR)
Friday vs. Atlanta
Sunday vs. Pittsburgh
Tuesday @ Philadelphia
4/9 @ Atlanta
4/11 vs. Washington
Montreal (88 points, 6 GR)
Thursday @ N.Y. Islanders
Saturday @ Toronto
Monday vs. Ottawa
Tuesday @ N.Y. Rangers
4/9 @ Boston
4/11 vs. Pittsburgh
N.Y. Rangers (89 points, 5 GR)
Thursday @ Carolina
Saturday @ Boston
Tuesday vs. Montreal
4/9 vs. Philadelphia
4/12 @ Philadelphia


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Buffalo has won three straight, but it might be too little too late. AP photo