Two of the hottest teams in the NHL collide in First Niagara Center with plenty on the line. The Sabres are trying to regain the Eastern Conference playoff spot they earned this week. The Pens are angling to claim the No. 1 spot in the conference. "It's going to be an extremely fun game," said Weber, who will return to the lineup in place of injured defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. "It's really playoff hockey right now. Teams are ramped up and playing extremely solid. We've just got to keep playing the way we've been playing." The Sabres are on a run that borders on ridiculous. They have won five straight and are 7-0-2 in the last nine.
That is part of a 14-2-4 rally that dates to Feb. 17 and a 19-5-5 surge going back to Jan. 24. Pittsburgh is one of the few teams that can go back even further for its streak. After losing Thursday at the New York Islanders, it is 26-7-2 since Jan. 13. "It's a good test for us," said Buffalo center Derek Roy, who returned to practice Thursday after a missing a day with flu-like symptoms. "These are the games you play for. These are the games you grow up thinking about, wanting to play the big game, wanting to be in the spotlight, score the big goal, make the big save, block the big shot -- whatever has to be done. "We have to embrace this challenge and really work at it."
The Sabres need at least a point to stay ahead of Washington for the eighth and final postseason spot. The Capitals beat Boston, 3-2, Thursday in a shootout to equal the Sabres with 86 points. Washington has played one more game but owns the tiebreaker of regulation and overtime victories. The Sabres have five games left. The Sabres are trying to forget about the Caps and the big victory Tuesday. They held an optional skate Thursday to rest after practicing Wednesday to revel in the victory.
"We've talked about it for almost two months now of not getting too excited after wins and enjoying the win and putting it away," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I think we've done a good job of that. We knew that that game was like a four-pointer. That was a game we wanted to get, and we got it. "Part of skating [Wednesday] was to kind of flush that out of the system. Now we're resting up and getting ready for the next one."
The game tonight will be filled with players performing at their best. Buffalo boasts goaltender Ryan Miller and forwards Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. Pittsburgh counters with Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, Jordan Staal and Crosby, to name a few. Miller is 19-3-5 with a 1.80 goals-against average and .940 save percentage since late January. Stafford, Ennis and Foligno have combined for 17 goals and 38 points in the last nine games.
The Pens' lineup is filled with streaking players. Malkin has nine goals and 19 points in 10 games. Dupuis has put up at least a point in 12 straight, pouring in nine goals with six assists. Staal has reached the score sheet in 17 of 21 games. Crosby, who has missed most of the season with concussion problems, has recorded 11 assists and 13 points in the opening nine games of his return.
"You've got one of the best players in the world back and healthy and playing the way he is, it's a better league," Ruff said. "He's made them a better team." It's the Sabres' first look at Crosby. They are 2-1 against the Pens so far with 3-2 and 6-2 victories sandwiching an 8-3 loss. "Offensively, they've been going pretty good," Ruff said. "Defensively, I've read some stuff where they want to tighten up on the defensive side of it. ... It should be a great skating game."