NHL on NBCSN: Hot Sabres challenge Tampa Bay

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Buffalo Sabres host the Tampa Bay Lightning at the First Niagara Center at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

When the 2014-15 campaign started, the Buffalo Sabres were pegged as a team far more likely to compete for projected first overall draft pick Connor McDavid than a playoff spot. At the start the season they did nothing to fight against the conventional wisdom, but lately they’ve actually been playing some pretty good hockey.

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Buffalo has won five of its last six games coming into tonight’s contest. Is it a sign that this young team is starting to grow under head coach Ted Nolan or is this just a hot streak in what will be an otherwise dismal season? The latter might prove to be closer to the truth, but right now the Sabres are feeling good about their game and that counts for something.

“I’m feeling a little bit more comfortable, and I’m putting a couple games together,” goaltender Jhonas Enroth told the Buffalo News. “It’s five good games in a row for me. It’s a result of how good we’re playing five against five. All the guys have been playing better, and we’ve been scoring goals, too.”

He’s been a big part of the Sabres’ turnaround as he’s made five straight starts and has only allowed eight goals over that span. The timing of his comeback couldn’t have been better as Buffalo has been without goalie Michal Neuvirth due to a lower-body injury.

Forward Tyler Ennis has been a major contributor too. The Sabres struggled to find the net early this season, but Ennis had three goals and 11 points in 13 contests last month. Along the way, he showed off his skill and determination by scoring one of the best goals of the season.

Tampa Bay will be another big test for them though. Enroth and the Sabres have managed to hold opposing offenses at bay lately, but the Lightning are first in the league with an average of 3.60 goals per game. They have one of the most dangerous shooters in the league in Steven Stamkos and his supporting staff of Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan, Nikita Kucherov, Valtteri Filppula, and Ondrej Palat has been exceptionally strong.

If there’s any silver lining, it’s that goaltender Ben Bishop played last night against the New York Rangers and the Lightning are consequently likely to start Evgeni Nabokov, who has struggled in limited playing time this season.

That should help the Sabres a little, but not enough to change the fact that Tampa Bay is the heavy favorite going into tonight’s contest. Still with Buffalo hot, all bets are off.