BUFFALO (LGS) — For the second straight game, a Northwest Division opponent will roll into HSBC Arena to face the Buffalo Sabres the night after defeating the Boston Bruins. The Sabres will attempt to keep the Minnesota Wild from duplicating Colorado's Wednesday success when the two teams face-off Friday night at 8 p.m. (MSG-TV/WGR-AM).
The Avalanche defeated the Sabres Wednesday night, ending Buffalo’s brief three-game winning streak, while extending their own to five games.
The game featured Buffalo co-captain Chris Drury’s return to action following a head injury that sidelined him for four contests.
Nathan Paetsch and Jason Pominville scored the two goals for Buffalo, who lost for just the third time in the last 12 games (9-2-1).
After 49 games without a goal, Paetsch has scored two in the last two games. Meanwhile, Pominville’s goal increased his current point-streak to eight games, recording four goals and seven assists during that time.
Buffalo (44-17-5) enters Friday’s game atop the Eastern Conference in points, three ahead of the New Jersey Devils, who visit HSBC Arena Saturday night. Nashville holds the best record in the league with 96 points, three more than the Sabres, but having played three more games.
The Sabres have never won the Presidents' Trophy, given to the team with the most regular-season points, since it was established in 1986.
After seeing a stretch of six games feature at least one injury per game, Buffalo appears to be heading towards getting healthy.
Aside from Drury’s return, defenseman Jaroslav Spacek has been skating for a while now and could be ready to play as early as March 13 against Pittsburgh, according to coach Lindy Ruff. He also stated that Andrew Peters was likely ready to play, but will probably sit out Friday night at least.
After Thursday's win, the Wild are tied with Calgary for seventh place in the Western Conference with 81 points but are slotted in the eighth seed due to the tie-breaker favoring the Flames.
Minnesota defeated Boston behind the strong goaltending of rookie netminder Niklas Backstrom. He was 1:36 away from a shutout, only to be beaten by Boston winger Brandon Bochenski.
Backstrom made 29 saves, while Brian Rolston and Pierre-Marc Bouchard provided the offense.
Minnesota is 10-3-3 in its last 16 games played and has rediscovered the level of intensity that saw them as one of the last three teams in the league to be defeated earlier in the season.
Pavol Demitra has scored 19 points in his last 15 games.
Buffalo’s power play will have to work hard to score, as the Wild have not allowed a man-advantage goal in their last 20 kills, a span of eight games.
Backstrom’s play has been a key part to their success. He has appeared in 13 of Minnesota’s last 15 games and will likely play again Friday.
It is expected that Buffalo will give recently acquired backup Ty Conklin his first start, resting Ryan Miller for Saturday's showdown against New Jersey. Conklin was brought in to replace Martin Biron at the trading deadline Feb. 27 and has yet to appear for Buffalo.
“I will be very anxious to play,” Conklin said. “I have to control my excitement so I can perform. You want to make a good impression. You want to give the guys reason to have faith in you when you’re in the net.”
Fun Fact of the Game:
Minnesota, Anaheim and Buffalo were the last three teams to lose in regulation at the start of the season. The Wild went 6-0 to begin the season but lost to the Ducks Oct. 20. They finished October 9-2. Meanwhile, Buffalo went 11-0-1 before losing in regulation Nov. 4 to Toronto. Anaheim posted an impressive 12-0-4 record before finally succumbing to Calgary Nov. 10.