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Laich's guarantee called off the mark

Too bad the Sabres and Washington Capitals don't meet anymore this season. The yammering between them would be interesting.

Without ever mentioning the Sabres or Florida Panthers directly, Capitals forward Brooks Laich put his best guarantee foot forward Wednesday and said his team was going to survive the final two games and make the playoffs.

"We're not talking worst-case scenario. We're making the playoffs," Laich said during a weekly appearance on a Washington radio station. "There's probably games in October that you wish you had or November or whatever. But over the course of 82 games, your team identity is gonna be revealed, and either you are or you aren't a playoff team."

Relayed Laich's comments, the Sabres were unimpressed.

"We're not playing against him and I don't think he's Mark Messier so I think he's searching for a spark for his team," cracked Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, referring to the ex-Rangers captain's famous guaranteed win prior to Game Six of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals in New Jersey.

Coach Lindy Ruff snickered when told what Laich had said, and pointed out the Capitals have a major showdown with the Panthers tonight in Verizon Center.

"It sounds like they want to knock Florida out for sure then," said a smiling Ruff. "Those are all predictions that you live with, you die with, you hope to motivate your team with. He probably believes sincerely they're gonna make it. They probably like their schedule, their chances of playing Florida in their building. We got our work cut out for us, they got theirs."

Laich didn't back off from his statement when asked about it Wednesday following practice in Arlington, Va.

"I have a belief we're going to be in the playoffs and that's it," Laich said. "I don't want to discuss any scenario that we're not. My belief is that we're going to be in the playoffs."

Miller said he hoped the Sabres would stay quiet about such proclamations.

"I don't think anybody in this locker room would go as far as to start to do that," he said. "It gets to be distracting. Hopefully it's a huge distraction to them. Some guys don't react well to that.

"Guys might tighten up. Maybe their young goaltenders aren't going to react well to a guaranteed victory by their veteran guy. You start thinking about it."

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The major point of emphasis in the Sabres' video session Wednesday morning was to play a tighter defensive game. The Sabres have allowed 14 goals in the last three games -- after giving up just three in previous four.

"We had too many times that defensive coverage got mixed up or someone missed an assignment," said Robyn Regehr. "It leads to small mistakes. Make them continually and it usually leads to a bigger breakdown."

"Some of it was just lack of communication, some of it was just coverage," Ruff said. "But we do have to tighten up, there's no secret. That's on myself and my staff to make sure we tighten up those areas. That's not playing a game where you give up 16, 17 [scoring chances]. We've got to get it back to the norm, 10 or 11."

***

The Sabres are 18-7-5 since Feb. 1. By comparison, the Leafs fell to 9-18-3, so the Sabres have made up 20 points on Toronto since that date. The Sabres scored three power-play goals in Tuesday's game, just the third time they've done that this season. They were 3-6 in a 5-4 win over the Leafs here on Dec. 16 and 4-12 in a 6-5 overtime win over Winnipeg on Nov. 8. The overtime affair snapped a string of 10 straight regulation decisions between Buffalo and Toronto, the most in the rivalry since regular-season OT began in 1983.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com