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Canadiens, Leafs or Isles will be playoff foe

WASHINGTON -- There's a decent chance before the day is over the Buffalo Sabres and their fans will have dedicated more attention to the rest of the NHL schedule than to this afternoon's game against the Washington Capitals.

Today's docket is rife with implications for the Sabres' postseason and their chances of earning the first Presidents' Trophy in team history.

The Sabres likely will know their first-round playoff opponent before their heads hit their pillows, although there's a remote possibility they'll have to wait until Sunday afternoon. They might lock up the regular-season title this afternoon, too.

Today offers three games of major importance to the Sabres, not counting the one they're playing. Games with playoff repercussions are the New York Islanders at Philadelphia Flyers this afternoon and the Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs tonight in the season finale for both.

The Canadiens started the day as the eighth-place team in the Eastern Conference, but the Maple Leafs or Islanders can catch them. The Sabres will face whichever team locks up that final playoff berth.

"You know, I'm not all that concerned about looking at the scoreboard," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I haven't even looked at the schedule to see who's playing at the same time we're playing. I know [tonight] is a big game for Montreal and Toronto. I don't know if there's an afternoon game that affects us or not."

It certainly can.

Since the Islanders need to beat the Flyers today and the New Jersey Devils on Sunday afternoon and receive a little help from the Leafs tonight, if they fail to record two points this afternoon they are done and the Canadiens can clinch with any victory.

The Leafs, meanwhile, must win in regulation -- if the Canadiens lose in overtime or in a shootout, they both will finish with 91 points and the Canadiens own the first tiebreaker with more wins -- and hope the Islanders don't collect all four points.

But the Canadiens can't afford to play for overtime or the shootout if the Islanders win this afternoon. The Islanders would have 92 points and slip into the eighth slot with a pair of victories and a Canadiens loss of any type.

Of course, as that scenario would unfold, the Sabres would have to wait until Sunday afternoon to learn their first-round opponent.

"The Islanders have done their part and given themselves a chance," Ruff said. "What looked like you were knowing [the playoff matchups] Saturday night looks a lot like you might not know until Sunday."

If the Canadiens win tonight and the Islanders win out, the Canadiens would be the eighth seed because they also hold the tiebreaker over the Islanders.

As for the Presidents' Trophy, the Sabres' lone competitors are the Detroit Red Wings, who finish their season this afternoon against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Sabres and Red Wings are tied with 111 points, but the Sabres also play Sunday afternoon in Philly.

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Top Buffalo scorer Daniel Briere went pointless in Thursday night's 4-2 victory over the Boston Bruins, leaving him five points shy of 100 for the season. He is averaging 1.2 points per game.

Briere hasn't gone consecutive games without a point since Jan. 1 and Jan. 3. He has 17 goals and 32 assists in the 39 games since.

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Buffalo defenseman Jaroslav Spacek had a rough practice. While playing the point with center Tim Connolly on extended power-play drills, Spacek fell down twice without contact, crumbling into the boards.

The first time Spacek wiped out, he laughed. When he did it again less than a minute later he got up and slammed his stick into the glass, putting a long crack in the pane.

"Hey, Spatch," Ruff said amid cackling from the players on the bench, "on either side of the rink there's a wall."

An observer might have guessed it was Spacek, not Connolly, who was about to play his first game in 11 months.

"That made Tim look good," Ruff said of Spacek's pratfalls.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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