Zach Bogosian pays no attention to the NHL standings, even with the Buffalo Sabres in the playoff hunt for the first time in years.
“We play the game the same way every time, so we’re not going to play any harder or less hard against whoever it is,” the Sabres’ veteran defenseman said after practice Wednesday. “I don’t pay attention to it at all.”
Bogosian isn’t alone in this approach. There are other players on the Sabres’ roster who share a similar philosophy, as well as those on the other end of the spectrum, like forward Sam Reinhart, who said he keeps a close eye on the out-of-town scoreboard.
But they all appreciate that the Sabres are playing meaningful games in February for a change, and understand the added importance of defeating the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at KeyBank Center in the third game of a seven-game homestand.
“It’s a big game for us,” Sabres and former Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner said. “This time of year, I think any time you come to the rink it’s important to try to pick up points, and obviously this team is right there with us, so it gives it a little extra importance.”
The Sabres and Hurricanes are tied with 58 points in the Eastern Conference standings, just three points behind Columbus for the final playoff spot with two months remaining in the regular season.
Buffalo has the advantage of having played one fewer game. The Sabres have 30 games remaining; the Hurricanes 29.
“I’m not one who looks at (the standings) all the time,” Sabres forward Casey Mittelstadt said. “I think if you look at it too much it gets in your head a little bit. I think the main thing for us is to focus on how we can play and we know what we can do, and just work towards that and it should work itself out.”
The Sabres have lost seven consecutive games to the Hurricanes, a franchise with the longest active playoff drought in the NHL, going 0-5-2 since last topping the ‘Canes on March 22, 2016, at Carolina.
The stretch includes a 4-3 loss at Carolina on Jan. 11, in the teams’ first meeting this season.
Carolina hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2008-09 season. The Sabres have the second-longest active playoff drought at seven seasons, last making the postseason in 2011.
“We haven’t had a lot of success against them in the last two or three years,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said. “That’s going to be a point of emphasis, but more importantly, is to try and keep building something here and not going back to winning a game and then getting on the (wrong) side of things. We’ve got to stay focused.”
Buffalo, which defeated the Minnesota Wild, 5-4, in a shootout Tuesday night, hasn’t won back-to-back games since Dec. 11 and 13, against the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes.
Carolina defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-0, on Tuesday night to keep pace with the Sabres and Blue Jackets. Columbus topped the Colorado Avalanche, 6-3.
“I couldn’t imagine playing a sport and not knowing the score,” Reinhart said. “You want to know where you are. Everybody’s different. But I’m checking the scores every night. I want to know what other teams are up to. It seems like every time we win, other teams win, too, so it’s a dogfight. But, no, I want to know what the score is, for sure.”
The Sabres will continue their homestand with back-to-back games against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday and the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, then host the New York Islanders on Tuesday and New York Rangers on Feb. 15.
Buffalo hasn’t strung more than two victories together since the end of its 10-game winning streak on Nov. 27.
“At this point, any game is important,” Bogosian said. “I think anytime you have a chance to get two points and you get two points and climb up the standings, it’s huge. Anytime you’re playing a team that’s right on your heels or you’re chasing them, those are obviously — I wouldn’t say they’re more important, because every game is important — but those are games that are definitely must-wins.”
On this point, he and Reinhart agree.
“Every point matters at this time of the year,” Reinhart said. “We’re in playoff mode right now.”
Skinner said the Sabres are embracing the moment.
“It’s fun. I think that’s why you play the game, to play in important games, to play in big situations,” Skinner said. “And I think especially here, everyone’s sort of excited. There’s been sort of a buzz around the city. They love the Sabres here. They want to see them do well. I think guys want to make them proud. That’s why we play the game, to play in these meaningful games coming down the stretch.”