There’s no reason to sugarcoat it. This could be the Sabres’ last stand.
Here are Five Things to Know as Buffalo hosts Boston on Thursday night.
1. All eyes on the standings.
Boston is in third place in the Atlantic Division, which is the final playoff spot. Seventh-place Buffalo is six points back.
With back-to-back games against the Bruins, now is the time for the Sabres to make a statement.
“We need to get excited about the opportunity we have,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said in KeyBank Center. “For everything that we’ve gone through for 34 games, you’re staring at a team that’s in the playoffs right now. You’ve got two games against them, and you’re six points behind them with three games in hand.
“We’re at Game 35, but these two games are as big as they’re going to get for us.”
“It’s not a must-win, but it’s pretty close." - Brian Gionta on Sabres' back-to-backs with Bruins. https://t.co/BvgRg2zeNC
— John Vogl (@BuffNewsVogl) December 29, 2016
2. Sabres can’t afford more letdowns.
Buffalo is just 7-10-7 against the Eastern Conference, including 4-5-3 in the division. The team can’t keep giving points away in the head-to-head matchups.
“We’ve had a bunch of these games this year where we’ve been playing teams either right above us or right underneath us,” starting goaltender Robin Lehner said after the morning skate. “We’ve got to try to approach it a little differently. We’ve just got to worry about ourselves because the last few other times we kind of were overthinking it a little bit, and we’d be coming out and having some of our worst games.”
3. Kulikov sidelined again.
Buffalo defenseman Dmitry Kulikov will sit for the 15th time because of the lower-back injury suffered during the preseason. He had played in eight straight.
“It’s something that Dmitry’s dealt with for a long time,” Bylsma said. “It just flared up really over the break with three days off. We’re hopeful that not playing in this game he’ll get better, he’ll get some recovery from it and get back.”
Bylsma said Kulikov may return Saturday in Boston. Cody Franson, who has missed three games with a lower-body injury, will play Thursday.
4. Boston’s been beating the Sabres.
The Bruins are just 3-5-3 in their past 11 games, but this season they’re 2-0 against the Sabres. They earned 4-0 and 2-1 victories.
“The Bruins are a hard team to play against,” Bylsma said. “They play a good structured game, and that’s how they played in the first game. They got the power play and it was dominant against us. They got three power-play goals.
“They’re one of the best structured teams in the league and play that way repeatedly. You can’t deviate from the game. You can’t look for offense and gain offense against this team. If you do, you’re going to pay for it.”
5. Sabres watching Marchand.
Bruins forward Brad Marchand scored the winner in the first meeting and added an assist in the second. He has 16 goals and 26 points in 33 career games against Buffalo.
The feisty winger leads Boston with 19 assists and 29 points in 37 games.
“Marchand was the best player on the ice against us in both games and a huge factor,” Bylsma said. “We’ve got to control this guy. We’ve got to get after this guy and make sure he’s not the story line in the game.”