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NHL Playoff Picture: Must win game for Buffalo to keep slim hopes alive

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer

The Buffalo Sabres are somehow still in the playoff race. But they need a win on Friday. (USATSI)
The Buffalo Sabres are somehow still in the playoff race, but they need a win on Friday. (USATSI)

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As crazy as this might be, the Buffalo Sabres still have a very slim chance at making the playoffs. After their awful start, after all of the trades at the deadline, they still enter Friday's game against the New York Rangers with a shot at the postseason.

It's a long shot of course, and a lot of crazy stuff has to happen over the next week, but the Sabres enter Friday's game against the Rangers four points back of the No. 8 seed. A regulation win on Friday would go a long way toward keeping them in the race (and making it very, very interesting down the stretch) while a regulation loss would end their chances.

It's the classic "four-point game" and the first of what could be many over the next two weeks if they find a way to keep winning.

How desperate could the situation be for Buffalo? On Thursday, coach Ron Rolston was asked about potentially pulling his goalie late in regulation of a tie game in an effort to win in regulation and prevent the Rangers from getting a point, and he acknowledged that it could be a possibility.

From a pure entertainment standpoint, that would be amazing to see.

The Sabres have won six of their past eight games to get back in the race, and looking at their remaining schedule most of them could be like Friday's against teams they're still chasing. After the Rangers, their remaining schedule includes home games with the No. 9 seed Winnipeg Jets and a season-ending contest against the No. 7 seed New York Islanders.

They pretty much need to win all of them.

Clinching/elimination scenarios

A regulation loss for the Sabres eliminates them.

The Philadelphia Flyers are eliminated with a win by the New York Rangers.

Key games

7 P.M. ET: Pittsburgh at Boston: It's not known whether this game will be disrupted. Both teams canceled their morning skates as the entire city of Boston is on lockdown due to the police situation involving the Boston marathon bombing suspect.

If it does take place as scheduled, the only thing at stake here is seeding. Both teams are already in the playoffs; the Penguins are trying to secure the No. 1 seed -- it's all but done at this point -- while the Bruins are still involved in the Northeast Division race with Montreal. A win on Friday would move the Bruins into a tie with the Canadiens while they would still have a game in hand.

8 ET: Dallas at St. Louis: The Stars are yet another team that sold off assets at the trade deadline and has gone on a tear to get back into the race. They enter Friday's game at St. Louis two points back of the No. 8 spot and still have games in hand with teams they're chasing, including the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets. They could take over the No. 8 spot for the time being with a win. The Blues are coming off a big win on Thursday and were able to move up to the No. 6 seed.

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