SUNRISE, Fla. -- It's Game 81 of the NHL schedule, the final weekend of a season down the drain for both the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers. They meet Saturday at 7:05 in BB&T Center on Florida's Fan Appreciation Night.
Here are Five Things to Know about Saturday night's game:
1. Another NHL debut: C.J. Smith came from college to join the Sabres on Sunday. Alex Nylander made the trip from Rochester on Monday and West Seneca native Sean Malone was in the Frozen Four for Harvard on Thursday, and now the NHL on Saturday after signing his entry-level deal. Malone is in the lineup replacing Marcus Foligno, who suffered a minor knee injury Wednesday against Montreal and didn't make the trip.
2. Other lineup notes: Robin Lehner will start in goal for the Sabres with Linus Ullmark backing up. Coach Dan Bylsma said Anders Nilsson is dealing with an arm injury and unable to make the trip after trying to practice Friday in HarborCenter. The Sabres had an optional skate today and their lineup will come into focus for warmup but Bylsma said C.J. Smith will sit as a healthy scratch.
3. Vs. the Panthers/Atlantic: Buffalo is 2-0-1 against the Panthers this year and a win tonight would give them consecutive wins over Florida for the first time since Feb. 10 and Oct. 29, 2011. The Sabres haven't won three games in a season against Florida since 2009-10. The Sabres are 9-2-1 in their last 12 games against the Atlantic Division after going 4-9-3 in their first 16.
4. Numbers games: If the Sabres win tonight, they will lock up sixth place in the Atlantic and 13th in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo was seventh in the division and 14th in the East last year. ... The Sabres' power play remains No. 1 in the league at 24.8 percent ... The Buffalo penalty kill is 53 for 61 (86.9 percent) over the last 24 games ... Over the final two games, Jack Eichel needs three points to reach 60 for the season while Sam Reinhart needs three to get to 50. If Eichel gets four points to finish at 61, he would be a point-a-game player over 61 games.
5. A Florida farewell: Much of the Panthers' focus for their Fan Appreciation night will be on the final NHL game for tough guy Shawn Thornton. The 39-year-old played his 700th career game last week in Buffalo and will be retiring after the season to join the Panthers' front office. He is not playing in the season finale Sunday in Washington. Thornton won Stanley Cups in 2007 with Anaheim and 2011 with Boston. He is the only player in the expansion era to play both 600 AHL games and 700 NHL games. He has 42 goals, 60 assists and 1,103 penalty minutes in his NHL career.
"I've tried to embrace every moment along the way… a lot of great memories, a lot of great friends." - Thorty on the end of the road. pic.twitter.com/S93dFOI6AT
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) April 8, 2017