BUFFALO (LGS) — The Buffalo Sabres look to stay on the winning track as they host the first game of a home-and-home series with the Toronto Maple Leafs Friday night at 8 p.m. inside HSBC Arena (MSG-TV/WGR-AM).
The penultimate game of the season series features the possible return of Toronto’s Tomas Kaberle, the all-star defenseman injured by New Jersey Devils forward Cam Janssen on March 2.
“I think (Kaberle) is a tremendous player,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Thursday. “Kaberle is a great playmaker. He’s great at getting up ice. He’s a big piece of that team.”
Meanwhile, Buffalo (47-19-7) ended a three-game home losing streak Wednesday night with a victory over the Washington Capitals. Former Capital Dainius Zubrus recorded two assists, and rookie Drew Stafford scored two goals and had another disallowed in the victory.
“This is definitely what we wanted to clean up,” said co-captain Daniel Briere, who scored the game-winner Wednesday. “Sometimes it’s a good thing to hit the rough patch before you hit the playoffs. And hopefully we’re out of it now and we can look forward and come into the playoffs on a roll.”
Buffalo is hoping to do this season what they accomplished last year. The team entered the final eight games of the 05-06 season having lost eight of nine games. However, they found their game again, winning seven of the last eight games before catapulting through the playoffs until Carolina eliminated them in May.
“Small things mean a lot and I think we just want to be ramping up at the right time,” Ryan Miller said. “Last 10 games for us is going to be a focal point and tonight was a good step forward.”
The power play made a big difference against Washington, as the Sabres converted two of their four chances, including Briere’s tally in the second period.
“There was a lot of pressure on us to score some power-play goals,” Derek Roy said.
The team had gone seven straight games without a power-play goal before Wednesday. They scored multiple power-play goals in a game for the first time since Feb. 20, which saw them score three times against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Toronto (35-28-10) is fighting for a playoff spot as it enters the final nine games of its season. The Leafs sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference after Carolina, Montreal and the New York Islanders all passed them with wins Thursday night.
The Maple Leafs have fared well at home recently, winning four straight. However, they have lost three straight road games, where they have been outscored 13-4.
However, Toronto has played well in Buffalo over the course of the season. Of the three previous matchups at HSBC Arena, Toronto has won two of them, including giving the Sabres their first regulation loss of the season Nov. 4 by a 4-1 score.
"We play better in Buffalo than we do in Toronto, because we want to get two points there," Darcy Tucker said Thursday.
The return of Kaberle could help the Maple Leafs in their playoff push. The defenseman is third on the team in scoring with 49 points, despite missing the last eight games.
“I don’t want to play one or two games and not feel good,” Kaberle said. “I want to play eight, nine games — the rest of the season — and help the team try to make the playoffs.”
Toronto last played Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils. The team won a spirited 2-1 game, which featured defenseman Wade Belak — a healthy scratch the night Kaberle was hurt — fighting Janssen early on.
“I thought it was the appropriate thing to do, and he (Belak) did a great job,” Toronto captain Mats Sundin said.
Fun Fact of the Game:
In an odd statistic, the Sabres’ winning percentage when leading after two periods (0.857) is lower than when they lead after one (0.885).