DETROIT – The Sabres are looking for late-season challenges, things that will teach them and give them team-building experiences. They’ve got one Monday.
The Detroit Red Wings are ninth in the Eastern Conference, one position shy of a wild-card spot. Detroit has made the postseason for 24 straight years, so they’ll certainly be focused on beating the Sabres in Joe Louis Arena (7:30 p.m., NBCSN).
“Every game’s probably their most important one,” Buffalo center Jack Eichel said. “We’ve got to match their intensity. We’re playing for a lot of self-pride here at this point and building toward the future. Every game is a step for us to try and get better.”
Buffalo actually can get one spot better. With a regulation or overtime victory, the Sabres will move past Montreal and into 13th place in the conference and 23rd overall.
“We’ve talked about putting teams behind us and trying to catch teams,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “We have that opportunity by winning and winning again tonight. We’re also at 72 points and would like to push to get to 80 points for this season as well. We’ve got seven games left to do that.”
Chad Johnson (19-15-3, .918) will start in goal for the Sabres for the fifth straight game. Jimmy Howard, who was the backup to Petr Mrazek for most of the season, will be in net for Detroit. The veteran is 10-11-5 with a .905 save percentage.
“It’s down to do-or-die, like it has been the last month,” Howard said. “We’ve got to find a way to win games here. Every single time you go out on the ice, you know it means a lot.”
The Red Wings’ 24-year playoff streak is the longest in the NHL. Pittsburgh is second at only nine seasons.
“We want to play in the postseason,” Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “When we do that obviously the streak continues. In here, our main focus is not the streak. It’s to be able to play in the playoffs. That’s the message we’re trying to get through.”
Buffalo rookies Hudson Fasching and Casey Nelson will play their second NHL games, with Cal O’Reilly and Carlo Colaiacovo again sitting. Fasching practiced on the fourth line with David Legwand and Matt Moulson during the morning skate, but Bylsma said the right winger will again get time in Nicolas Deslauriers’ spot on the top line with Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane.
Ryan O’Reilly will enter the game as the Sabres’ nominee for the Masterton Trophy, which will be handed out in June to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
“It’s a huge honor,” he said. “Me any brother, we just always grew up loving the game. We always wanted to get as best as we could. We never think we’ve arrived anywhere. We always want to grow our games and ourselves. It’s one of those things that we enjoy in the game is getting better.
“It’s such a beautiful game. You can be so creative in so many different ways in training, and we just like to incorporate all that. It’s a lot of fun. It’s just the greatest game in the world, and I’m very lucky and fortunate to be able to play at this level and want to play here as long as I can.”