BOSTON – The Buffalo Sabres found a way to win without Jack Eichel.
Almost every player in the lineup contributed in a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers in KeyBank Center on Thursday. However, barely escaping against a sixth-place team likely won't be good enough tonight against the Boston Bruins in TD Garden.
This is the final game of the season between the two Atlantic Division rivals and sole possession of third place will be on the line when puck drops at 7:08 p.m. The Sabres (22-13-6) are also entering another grueling part of their schedule.
Seven of their next nine games are on the road, including a three-game Western Canada trip. The Bruins (23-14-4) have won three games in a row, including a 4-2 victory over Chicago in the Winter Classic, to own a tiebreaker in the standings over Buffalo. This is the first time since 2009-10 the Sabres have been over .500 after their 41st game of the season.
"We definitely want to carry it over," Sabres winger Jason Pominville said. "I thought we did a lot of good things [against Florida]. I think the last time we played [the Bruins] we did a lot of good things, too. Obviously they were missing some top-end talent on their side and they'll be back in the lineup tonight, so we've got to make sure we're aware of that top line at all times."
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game
1. The lineup: Eichel is out again tonight and remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury, according to coach Phil Housley, who will use the same lineup that beat the Panthers.
Evan Rodrigues will center the top line of Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart. Vladimir Sobotka, who sat out practice Friday, will play. Rodrigues was on the ice for 17:21 against Florida on Thursday and had one shot on goal, but he won eight of 10 faceoffs.
"You guys saw the confidence he had been playing with as of late," Reinhart said of Rodrigues. "I was excited for that different opportunity to play with him. ... I was pretty familiar with his game. The biggest thing for him was to not try and change anything and just keep playing his game. I think you guys saw that from him."
#Sabres in warmups vs. #FlaPanthers
Pilut-Bogosian; McCabe-Ristolainen; Scandella-Dahlin
Ullmark (Hutton backup)...Out: Eichel (injured); Hunwick-Beaulieu (scratch)
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) January 3, 2019
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters Tuukka Rask will start in goal tonight, and winger David Backes will return to the lineup after serving a three-game suspension. Backes, who did not play against Buffalo on Dec. 29, will skate on a line with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci.
2. Ullmark's net: Linus Ullmark, who made 35 saves in a 4-2 win over Boston in TD Garden last month, will make a second consecutive start after he improved to 9-1-3 by making 35 saves against the Panthers. Ullmark went 1-1-1 when he made three consecutive starts with Carter Hutton injured last month.
Hutton is healthy, but he has allowed a few soft goals as of late, including one off his glove in the third period Monday against the New York Islanders. Among goalies with at least 12 games played, Ullmark's save percentage of .922 entered Friday 10th in the league and tops among rookie goalies. Now, he's pushing Hutton for the starting job.
"I think his record speaks for itself," Housley said of Ullmark. "He’s played some terrific hockey this year for us."
3. Special teams: Despite playing without Zemgus Girgensons the past three games, Buffalo's penalty kill is 34-for-37 over the past 13 games and is ranked seventh in the league entering Saturday's games.
With Girgensons out, Rodrigues has been asked to fill a bigger role on the penalty kill and winger C.J. Smith, a recent addition from Rochester, has also contributed.
On the other hand, the Sabres' power play – which struggled with Eichel in the lineup – is now 3-for-22 over the past eight games. Rasmus Dahlin will likely move back to the top power-play unit, and Kyle Okposo is expected to be bumped down to the second unit after Buffalo failed to score on any of its three power-play chances Thursday against Florida, including 1:25 of a 5-on-3.
The Bruins are ranked fourth on the power play and 12th on the penalty kill. They failed to score on three power-play chances against the Sabres on Dec. 29 in KeyBank Center.
4. Reinhart roll: Reinhart's goal against the Panthers was his first in 12 games, however, he had 14 assists during the 11 games in which he didn't score. The 23-year-old has already set a career-high with 31 assists this season and is on pace for 80 points, which would shatter his previous high of 50.
Reinhart has 37 points over his past 33 games, including 28 assists, with a plus-13 rating. He has seven assists in seven games against the Bruins since the start of last season.
“I was looking to score," he said. "It had felt like a while. But yeah, when the puck’s going in the net around you and I’m having the puck on my stick a lot around the net and still creating and obviously [Skinner] and [Eichel] were putting the puck in the net so for sure, it makes it a little bit easier. I knew for the most part I was doing a lot of the right things and the puck was on my stick around there. It was nice to get a bounce and finally put one in myself.”
5. By the numbers: The Sabres are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games against the Bruins. ... This is the 293rd meeting between the two teams, and Buffalo has a 125-122-45 series record. ... The road team has won six of the last seven games in the series since the beginning of last season. ... Skinner scored his seventh game-winning goal Thursday against Florida, which is tied for the most in the NHL and is the first Sabres player with at least seven since Derek Roy in 2008-09. ... Skinner is currently on pace to tie Danny Gare for the second-most goals in franchise history with 56, trailing only Alexander Mogilny, who had 76 in 1992-93.