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

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champions this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, three off his college career high set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, bumping the number of players from that program’s junior class to turn pro to four since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, a 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.

 

Video: Roussel opens the scoring for Dallas and Elliott wasn’t happy about it

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The Dallas Stars grabbed the all-important first goal in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues on Friday. And it was agitating forward Antoine Roussel who capitalized in the second period.

Roussel buried a rebound at the end of a pretty passing play from the Stars. Blues goalie Brian Elliott was furious, as defenseman Jay Bouwmeester slid into the crease in an attempt to block the shot.