Blog Entry

Morning Skate: Sabres creeping back in

Posted on: March 1, 2012 9:53 am
Edited on: March 1, 2012 10:01 am
 
Miller has wins in four of his last five starts. (US Presswire)

By Brian Stubits

The Morning Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

Playoff Race

10:30 ET, Buffalo at San Jose

Well would you look at that, the Buffalo Sabres are back in the conversation. Somewhat miraculously it's true.

Ryan Miller is showing flashes of the goaltender America came to know two years ago. He's been up to the quality we've come to expect from him in recent games, including Wednesday's shutout of the not-long-ago streaking Anaheim Ducks. As a result -- and of the East's struggle at the bottom -- the Sabres begin the day only five points back of Washington.

Now before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it's time to remind everybody that the chances still aren't good and that's a lot of ground to make up still. According to Sports Club Stats, the odds the Sabres make the postseason are still only 4.1 percent. A win tonight in San Jose, however, then we're talking. They would hop two teams and move into 10th place, just three behind Washington (and we'll wait to see what Winnipeg does).

The Sharks meanwhile are still fighting for a playoff spot that is in no way guaranteed to be theirs right now. They just grabbed a huge 1-0 win over the Flyers the other night in San Jose to give them a little breathing room from the eighth-place chasers.

8 ET, Florida at Winnipeg

The Panthers are one of the rare teams that have had success this season in Winnipeg. They have played their twice and won both times. In those two games, Kris Versteeg scored five goals. To put that into context, he has 22 on the season, so nearly 1/4 of his goals have come at MTS Centre despite play 2/59 of his games there.

So the good news for the Jets? Versteeg won't be playing. That's a huge plus for a team that really needs this game at home. Winnipeg enters the night with four fewer points despite three more games played. Win this one and the Panthers stay within reach, fail to pick up any points and, well, that gets to be a big task.

But luckily for the Jets, the eighth seed in the East is still available too. They enter the night one point behind Washington there and can jump back into playoff position by the end of the evening. Again though, they have all those games in hand. That's why their margin for error is so slim, they need to pick up 2/3 of the points available the rest of the season to have a good shot.

9 ET, Calgary at Phoenix

The good news for the Flames as they head to face the Coyotes? The calendar no longer shows February. Phoenix was literally unbeatable (in regulation) for the month going 11-0-1 which included a comeback win in Calgary a week ago.

With that game a key culprit in the equation, the Flames have been slipping lately despite playing a home-heavy schedule. Perhaps getting away from home -- however unlikely that is -- might help them get back on track. It's about time they do if they want to keep in the conversation. Because right now they are four points back of being in with two teams in between them.

And it's not a terribly big secret why the Flames have lost four in a row. Miikka Kiprusoff can only be superman back there for so long. Without him it's hard to picture Calgary still being in the race. In the last four games, however, he has given up 15 goals as well as picking up a loss in two shootouts.

On the other side they face the hottest goaltender this side of ... well anywhere. You can already write Mike Smith's name in pen for the first start of the month of February. He was 11-0-0 in the month. My word.

Others worth watching

10 ET, St. Louis at Vancouver: Hoooo boy, this should be a good win. By virtue of a tie-breaker, these are the top two teams in the Western Conference. Heck, if the Blues win, they're in the lead for the Presidents' Trophy. Plus they have four straight wins on the road. Buckle up.

9 ET, Columbus at Colorado: The Blue Jackets might be out of it, but the Avalanche certainly aren't. They have the opportunity to move into the eighth spot in the West tonight. Pretty remarkable for a team that has been as streaky as they have.

7 ET, New Jersey at Boston: There isn't a whole lot here on the Devils' end. They are somewhat comfy in, but they'd like to start winning again to feel a little better. The Bruins actually find themselves in a division race. They have been mediocre (yes, really) for well over a month now.

Your promised miscellany

  • Wednesday's Winners & Losers
  • Rangers captain Ryan Callahan might be out for the Rangers' game against the Hurricanes tonight. (Rangers Rants)
  • A look through the mirrors back to an age of smoking in hockey. (SI)
  • The Ducks' slim playoff chances are getting even slimmer now and the team is showing some frustration. (O.C. Register)
  • ECHL coach Nick Vitucci lost his mind with the officials and went on one hell of a tirade. (Puck Daddy)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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