Buffalo Sabres v New York Islanders

Evaluating Buffalo’s slim playoff chances

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The Buffalo Sabres absolutely throttled the Boston Bruins last night, but as entertaining as the rivalry has become, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll see each other in the playoffs.

Still, the 6-0 win likely stirred that thought in some of us, so how about we break down Buffalo’s chances in a variety of ways?

The odds

Going by Sports Club Stats’ numbers, the Sabres are teetering on the edge of playoff irrelevance. The well-respected resource gives Buffalo just a 3.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, ranking them second-to-last in the East.

What they’ll need to do to beat those odds

According to Sports Club’s numbers, Buffalo will probably need a record of 18-8-3 (64.9 percent chance to make it), 18-7-4 (80.3 percent chance) or better for a good chance to play beyond 82 games. So the question is: can they earn 39-40 points in those 29 games?

Schedule

Schedules can often make or break these situations. Buffalo plays seven of its next eight games at home, including matches against fellow East contenders. Getting regulation wins in that span would improve their outlook, but surviving a flip-side stretch of seven of eight road games will be just as crucial.

Overall, the Sabres will play one more road game (15) than home contest (14), but the other big factor is that they have five back-to-back sets left. Looking at those numbers, one would say that Buffalo’s schedule is a wash – at best.

Positives

The most obvious plus is Ryan Miller’s recent play. Much like his team, Miller is 4-0-1 in his last five games. Miller has allowed just five goals in those five games – including a shutout in a shootout loss.

On paper, Buffalo might be the most talented bubble team aside from the Tampa Bay Lightning, which could play out on the ice even if it hasn’t so far. Spending money to improve that situation could be key, too. Terry Pegula’s deep pockets could swing things against lower-budget teams like the Panthers and Islanders, if it comes down to a trade deadline deal.

(If he hasn’t soured on putting up big bucks after Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff’s disappointments, that is.)

Conclusions

Buffalo made an impressive late run to the playoffs last season, but I’d say they hit the “snooze” button one too many times on this wake-up call. What do you think, though?

***

* – You can break down the East bubble teams into three different groups. (Note: ranks based on Sports Club’s numbers, not on current standings.)

Teams expected to make it
6) Toronto – 86 percent
7) Washington – 79.2 percent
8) Florida – 67 percent

Half-decent contenders
9) Ottawa – 40.1 percent
10) Winnipeg – 16.4 percent

Long shots
11) Montreal – 8.2 percent
12) Islanders – 5.4 percent
13) Tampa Bay – 5.3 percent
14) Buffalo – 3.2 percent

Stars end Capitals’ winning streak, pass Blackhawks for West lead

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For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”

They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:

  • Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
  • This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
  • By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.

Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).

Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.

Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.

Blackhawks fall to Ducks in OT, lose Hossa to injury

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The Chicago Blackhawks are on edge on Saturday, and it’s not because of what’s currently a close game against the Anaheim Ducks.

(Not that they’re indifferent toward a match against their opponents from last year’s conference final match, mind you.)

Instead, the Blackhawks are quite concerned about the health of Marian Hossa, who needed help off of the ice following an awkward, scary-looking crash into the boards. (Hampus Lindholm delivered the hip check that sent Hossa sprawling, in case you’re wondering.)

You can see that moment in the video above, while My Regular Face’s GIF also captures that troubling moment:

It’s too early to tell if Hossa will bounce back or miss some time from this. Stay tuned for potential updates.

Update: Joel Quenneville seems optimistic about Hossa, broadly speaking:

Ryan Getzlaf scored the overtime game-winner as the Ducks won 3-2 (OT).

Understatement: Saturday was a rough night for Panthers

Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) checks Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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If it weren’t for Mike Yeo and the Minnesota Wild, you could argue that the Florida Panthers suffered from the worst night so far.

You can see that Saturday was unpleasant merely from looking at the scoreboard: the Nashville Predators pummeled the Panthers by an unkind score of 5-0.

The pain goes beyond that … literally so.

For one thing, Quinton Howden suffered an upper-body injury and did not return. That’s no good, but if you want to feel sick to your stomach, footage of Brandon Pirri‘s likely lower-body injury (ankle maybe?) may do the trick.

(Seriously, you may be happier if you don’t look.)

The Panthers didn’t make an announcement about Pirri one way or another, so we’ll see if he somehow avoided anything significant.

Either way, it was a night this team would like to forget.

Fractured jaw from fight sidelines Chris Stewart for 4-8 weeks

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It’s unlikely that Chris Stewart will generate another 30-goal season in the NHL, but he still might be missed by the Anaheim Ducks.

The team announced that the ornery forward is expected to miss four-to-eight weeks with a fractured jaw. If that’s the recovery window, Stewart may go into the playoffs a little rusty (if he can get in any regular season games at all).

The Ducks didn’t elaborate, but the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline believes that the injury happened during a fight with Dalton Prout of the Columbus Blue Jackets. You can see that brawl in the video above.

One bright side for Anaheim: if they believe that they need to replace what Stewart brings to the table (rugged play with a dash of offense), then at least this injury happened before the the Feb. 29 trade deadline.