BUFFALO (LGS) — Thanks to a tie-breaker in their favor, the Buffalo Sabres have the top spot in the league entering their game Friday night against the New York Islanders. The 8 p.m. (MSG-TV/WGR-AM) faceoff will be the second-to-last regular-season home game of the year.
“It depends sometimes how the bounces are gonna go down the stretch,” said co-captain Daniel Briere of his team’s attitude towards the Presidents' Trophy. “If we’re down to two or three games, and we still have a shot, I really hope we’re gonna go for it.
“It’s something that doesn’t happen very often. It is just like winning the Stanley Cup. Only one team per year does it…I think it would be cool to win the Presidents' Trophy.”
Buffalo (49-20-7) could hit the 50-win plateau for the second consecutive season with a victory.
The franchise has not finished atop the conference standings since 1979-80, while their last division title came in 1996-97. Ironically, the coach of that division-winning team was Ted Nolan, who now coaches the Islanders.
The Sabres are coming off of an important victory over New Jersey, which, coupled with a Pittsburgh win Wednesday night, has fallen into a tie for fourth place with Ottawa with 98 points.
Jochen Hecht scored twice for Buffalo, while Ales Kotalik and Daniel Paille returned from long-term injuries to score one goal each in the 4-3 victory.
“Now they have to go a long way to catch us,” said Kotalik about New Jersey, which could have moved within three points of Buffalo with a victory. “It’s always a little confidence-booster for upcoming games.”
But the most important part for the squad is knowing they can play a defensive style and still be rewarded with four goals. The team played patiently and beat the Devils at their own game.
“We got the rewards for playing the right way,” Miller said. “The Devils play a very patient system that benefits them come playoff time. And we feel if we can play against that, we can play against a lot of teams in this league.”
And what’s better is that for the second straight game, the Sabres are expecting an injured player to return to the lineup. Toni Lydman will likely suit up after missing six games with an undisclosed upper-body injury. He was injured in the second period at Florida on March 15.
Meanwhile, while Buffalo is finally starting to see the light at the end of the injury tunnel, the Islanders (36-28-12) are just heading in.
Long-term goaltender Rick DiPietro has been sidelined with headaches, following an overtime loss at the New York Rangers Sunday. He was originally injured earlier this month after he was fallen onto during a game.
“After the game on Sunday, Rick told our medical staff that he was suffering from headaches," Islanders' general manager Garth Snow said. “Until Rick is completely recovered, he will not play. As important as these games are, nothing is more important than Rick’s health.”
According to the Associated Press, the Isles said DiPietro will not accompany the team to Buffalo.
Backup goaltender Mike Dunham will start for the Islanders. In 11 games that he has played this season, the team is 1-9-1.
The Sabres are 2-1 this season against the Islanders, including a 3-1 victory in Buffalo on New Year’s Day. However, New York ended a six-game losing streak against the Sabres later in January with a 5-3 victory Jan. 27.
Fun Fact of the Game:
Ty Conklin is celebrating his birthday Friday. He is 31. And Nathan Paetsch turns 24.