Thursday night's game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes is the epicenter of the race for last place.
For some, it's all about draft position in this summer's loaded NHL draft. Finish last and you're guaranteed at worst the No. 2 overall pick. Finishing last is the goal.
For Sabres coach Ted Nolan, finishing last has never been, nor never will be, the goal.
"I can’t control what other people think and what other people do," Nolan said Wednesday afternoon after the team practiced at First Niagara Center. "I know what I feel. I’m not speaking for anybody else. I’m speaking for myself. Who wants to finish last? I never went into anything my entire life wanting to finish last. You go into it with the right intentions and it’s the integrity of the game. That’s the line for me. You just go out and do what you have to do and feel the way you feel and some people want to finish last, well then good for them."
Enter the Sabres dressing room and players are upbeat, positive, ready for the next challenge. Why? Because despite their position in the standing, the effort has largely been consistent and the old cliches of "compete" and "battle" continue to play out in largely positive ways.
"I think they feel good because they’re going home at night knowing that they give what they have to give and you should enjoy what you do for a living," Nolan said. "These guys are in a very special place in their lives right now. They’re playing in the National Hockey League. They’re getting well compensated for it. The only thing we ask is that they come to practice and work and give what they have to give and when you do that, you’re usually a happy soul."
In other post-practice news, Nolan said Patrick Kaleta and Zach Bogosian are both "real close" to returning to the lineup while goaltender Matt Hackett is still recovering from knee pain from his last start in Nashville.
Click below to hear the audio from Nolan's session today.