Game 7 means an awful lot in hockey circles when it comes to the spring. When it comes to the Buffalo Sabres, Game 7 tonight against the New York Rangers marks the end of what equals the longest homestand in franchise history.
The Sabres are 3-2-1 on their current run, seeking to finish it with nine out of a possible 14 points. What was their record in the 1997 version of the seven-gamer? Yep, 4-2-1. If they get there with a win tonight, it will be their first two-game winning streak since Dec. 11-13. Buffalo is 0-7-1 since then with a chance to put together back-to-back wins.
Buffalo has split a pair of 3-1 decisions with the Rangers this season and both games were total "goalie steals". On Oct. 6, the second night of the season, Carter Hutton made 43 saves in a game that saw the visiting Rangers outshoot the Sabres, 44-29. On Nov. 4 in Madison Square Garden, Henrik Lundqvist made 39 saves in a game that saw Buffalo outshoot the Blueshirts, 40-22.
Tonight's game is a 7 p.m. start on MSG and WGR Radio. Here are Five Things to Know:
1. The standings: The Sabres remain four points behind Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference wild card and are one point behind Carolina, which hosts Edmonton tonight. The Rangers are 11 points behind the Penguins and look to be major sellers at the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
2. No Lundqvist in the nets: Linus Ullmark (13-5-4, 2.98/.913) will get the start for the Sabres for the fifth time in six games and he will be facing red-hot Rangers backup Alexandar Georgiev (8-9-0, 3.11/.905). Lundqvist, who has is 0-3-1 in February after ending January on a five-game winning streak, has played the two previous meetings agaionst Buffalo this year.
Georgiev, 23, has stopped 82 of 86 shots over his last two starts (.953) -- including a 55-save virtuoso act in Monday's 4-1 win over Toronto. The 55 stops second all-time for the Rangers to the 59 Mike Richter made in a 1991 loss in Vancouver. They were the most ever by a Rangers goalie in a victory, the most in regulation and the most ever by a member of the home team in the Garden.
The 23-year-old Bulgarian, who made his NHL debut last season, stopped 43 shots and came within 4 1/2 minutes of a shutout in his only career outing against the Sabres, a 5-1 win at MSG last March.
"For a lot of goalies, what you have to do it take their eyes away," center Evan Rodrigues said today. "It's kind of cliche but with a young kid, you really want to get in his way and throw him off his game early."
3. The lineup: The Sabres will have Zach Bogosian back in the lineup tonight after he missed two games with a lower-body injury. Matt Hunwick will be a scratch on defense. Casey Mittelstadt (lower body) will be out for the second straight game but coach Phil Housley said he is close to returning. The Rangers did not have a morning skate today but coach David Quinn said yesterday it's possible they could go with an 11-forward, seven-defenseman arrangement tonight for the third straight game.
#Sabres lines/pairings during the morning skate:
Extras: Mittelstadt, Hunwick and Beaulieu
— Lance Lysowski (@LLysowski) February 15, 2019
4. Homestand highlights: The Sabres started the homestand 1-1-1 and allowing 17 goals in the three games. They're 2-1 in the next three -- allowing just five goals.
"Credit to the players," coach Phil Housley said today. "Things weren't going the way we wanted them to. We were loose in our coverage and giving up goals. We made some adjustments and the credit goes to them for paying attention to the detail part of the game without the puck, in front of our net."
In the six games of the stand to date, the Sabres have been outscored, 22-20. Their power play is 5 for 16 and their penalty kill is 11 for 13.
5. By the numbers: Center Mika Zibanejad leads the Rangers in goals, assists and points (25-31-56). His 13 goals since Jan. 15 lead the NHL in that span. Linemate Chris Kreider is second on the Rangers in goals (24) and points (43). ... The Rangers lead the NHL in shootout victories with a 6-2 mark. The Sabres are 4-1, tied with Tampa Bay for second in the league in wins. ... New York is just 1-6 in overtime-deciding goals while the Sabres are 6-6. ... Jack Eichel (2-6-8) has a point in each game of the homestand and is looking for his second seven-game point streak of the season. ... Jeff Skinner's 34 goals are tied with Patrick Kane for second in the NHL behind Alex Ovechkin's 39.