With 18 games remaining, the New York Rangers will do battle in another pivotal game with playoff implications tonight when they host the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres, who are just five points behind the Rangers, but have played three fewer games.
While the Rangers are 2-0 on the year against the Sabres, Buffalo is one of the few fringe playoff teams who made a big deadline move, as they'll be joined by center Brad Boyes, who has 41 points on the year.
The Sabres are similar to the Rangers in that they rely heavily on their goaltender, Ryan Miller, to keep them in games. Thomas Vanek is the team's best scorer, with 52 points, but winger Drew Stafford has 24 goals on the year as well. Bottle up the big guys and find ways to get pucks past Miller and the Rangers will be on their way to a very important victory.
We all know that scoring on a consistent basis has been a struggle for the Rangers -- since January, 19 games have been decided either way by one goal. The defense has played well, the offense creates chances but just cant seem to find the elusive second goal. The Blueshirts are also just 14-14-3 at on home ice.
It appears that the Rangers will have to make due for the third straight game without their best defenseman, Marc Staal, who is still sidelined with a twisted knee. That means Steve Eminger will stay in the lineup tonight and Ryan McDonagh will again be shifted to the first pairing with Daniel Girardi. Though Ruslan Fedotenko skated this morning, it also looks like he will be in the press box tonight as well, meaning Kris Newbury will be in the lineup. Martin Biron joins the list of the injured Rangers and he'll probably miss the remainder of the season with a broken collarbone, so look for a heavy dose of Henrik Lundqvist as the playoff stretch rolls on.
All the games are important from here on out, but even more so because New York has played more games to date nearly every team fighting for a playoff spot. The Rangers need two points tonight to extend their lead on the Sabres to seven points and keep pace with the rest of the playoff pack.