The Stanley Cup playoffs are coming back to town and that's something Buffalo Sabres fans haven't seen in three years. But here's a rite of spring they are familiar with: The schedule is winding down and Jason Pominville is heating up.
The red-hot winger posted his 23rd goal of the season in Saturday night's 7-1, playoff-clinching crunching of Tampa Bay to tie Thomas Vanek for the team lead. With Vanek expected to be out for a few games due to an undisclosed lower-body injury, Pominville can take over the top spot tonight when the Sabres meet the Boston Bruins in TD Garden.
Pominville had his third three-point night of the season with a goal and two assists Saturday. That gives him 15 points in the last 10 games (seven goals, eight assists). In the previous 10 games, he had scored just once and had only five points.
"We all kind of have to elevate our game here toward the last stretch of the season," Pominville said. "I think that's how you want to go into it entering the playoffs. In the past I've had some OK starts and pretty good finishes. It's just one of those years where I keep elevating my game."
One of those years? Hardly. Pominville, who notched his 300th career point Saturday, has made a career out of being a fast finisher.
Pominville has 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in his last 28 games this season and had 18 points (6-12) in his final 13 games last season. Keep looking back and it's the same pattern.
Pominville had 29 points (11-18) in the final 24 games of the 2007-08 season and 25 points (11-14) in the final 24 games in 2006-07.
Any theories behind the closing rushes?
"You should tell me," said a grinning Pominville. "Honestly, I have no idea. I didn't really even think about it that it's been that way until you brought it up."
Pominville, who has a team-high plus-16 rating, has benefited this year from being reunited with longtime linemates Jochen Hecht and Tim Connolly, the center who is the Sabres' leading scorer.
Connolly missed his first game of the season Saturday with a lower-body injury but Pominville's game didn't miss a beat as Hecht moved to center and rookie Tyler Ennis jumped into the left wing.
Although Friday's disappointing loss to Ottawa caused plenty of angst in the Buffalo dressing room and in the stands, the Sabres are actually heading down the stretch just like Pominville.
The Sabres have won five of their six games and enter tonight's game with a five-point lead over Ottawa in the Northeast Division. They are three points behind Pittsburgh in the battle for second place in the Eastern Conference.
Boston, meanwhile, is desperately trying to stay in the playoff hunt. The Bruins are seventh in the East, but just two points ahead of ninth-place Atlanta a season after winning the conference regular-season title.
"It's good to not be fighting for those last couple spots," Pominville said.
With Vanek, Connolly, Patrick Kaleta and Raffi Torres all expected to sit out tonight's game, the Sabres called up Mark Mancari and Nathan Gerbe from Portland on an emergency basis Sunday night.
Mancari has one goal and one assist in four previous games with Buffalo this season over two recalls. Gerbe had a goal and an assist in his two games.
Kaleta is believed to be the most seriously injured of the four players. Coach Lindy Ruff called his ailment an "upper-body/outer-extremity" problem following Saturday's game and it's believed to be a hand injury related to his fight Friday with Ottawa's Zack Smith.
Sabres vs. Bruins
Faceoff: 7:00 p.m. in TD Garden
Radio: 550 AM
Season series: Bruins, 3-1