Brian Gionta doesn’t talk in hyperboles. The Sabres captain has seen enough in his 15 seasons to know that not everything is a make-or-break moment.
So when he admits that Buffalo’s back-to-back games against Boston are of the utmost importance, it must be true.
“It’s not a must-win, but it’s pretty close,” Gionta said.
The Sabres host the Bruins on Thursday and visit Boston on Saturday. The third-place Bruins hold the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. The seventh-place Sabres are six points back.
By New Year’s Day, the Sabres could be within two points or 10 points away. Rejuvenation takes place in one scenario, while ruination comes in the other.
“We’re pretty desperate,” Gionta said Wednesday in KeyBank Center. “We need to start getting points against teams that are ahead of us. If they’re in a playoff spot, we need to make sure they don’t gain any more ground on us.”
These will be the final two meetings for the longtime rivals, so it is Buffalo’s last chance to get points at Boston’s expense. It hasn’t gone well so far. The Bruins won, 4-0, at home Nov. 7 and earned a 2-1 victory Dec. 3 in Buffalo.
“We know what they’re capable of,” Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons said. “We’ve had a decent amount of games that we left points on the table, so it’s time for us to step up and get a winning streak going here.”
The Sabres’ inability to string victories together is what has gotten them in this mess. Their longest winning streak is three games, and it came from Oct. 29 to Nov. 1. Since then, the Bruins have reeled off three three-game streaks. It’s part of an Eastern Conference trend.
Columbus has a 13-game winning streak. Philadelphia won 10 in a row. Pittsburgh won seven. Washington won six. Carolina, New Jersey and the New York Rangers won five. Ottawa and Montreal won four in a row.
The Sabres have been up and down, going 9-10-6 since their winning streak.
“You look at our season, you’ve probably got to win a shootout, you’ve probably got to win an overtime game to keep a streak going,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “Two shootout victories would mean we win four in a row, not start a four-game winless streak.
“Every team that puts four and five and six together, they win some games going away. They also win in a shootout. They tie a game late and get an overtime victory and continue their streak that way. That’s something we haven’t been able to do.”
The Sabres have gone to overtime 11 times and won just three. That’s eight points they’ve missed.
But with a 4-3 victory Tuesday in Detroit, the Sabres have a chance to get another much-needed three-game winning streak.
“It’s significant for us,” Bylsma said. “Detroit was big to get the two points and really to get the two and not give them any. Now you’re staring at Boston for a home-and-home. They’re within earshot.
“You have a chance of sweeping these two games and gaining four points on them and putting yourself right near them, right next to them in the standings.”
The Sabres blew their last opportunity to close ground. They went 0-2-2 in the four games before the Christmas break, all of which came against conference rivals.
“It’s a huge week for us,” Gionta said. “We needed a big week before Christmas, and we didn’t have it. It makes this week more important.”