The Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins seem destined for the playoffs. The Buffalo Sabres are acting - and playing - like they're already competing in them.
With the importance of each game growing for the Sabres, they look to continue their impressive turnaround and beat the Bruins for a third consecutive time Thursday night.
Barring a collapse in its final 17 games, Boston (39-23-3) appears on its way to the postseason with an 11-point lead on the ninth-place tie between Buffalo (31-28-8) and Washington.
The Sabres, however, have moved within two points of Winnipeg for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference behind a 12-4-3 stretch. That's a dramatic change for a team that was considered one of the biggest flops of the season.
"This is our playoffs," coach Lindy Ruff said. "We've put ourselves on a nice run, but it's one game at a time and being ready to pick up the two points and move on to the next game."
Late season surges are familiar to Buffalo, which closed out last season 16-4-4 to earn a playoff spot on the final weekend.
The Sabres' turnaround continued Wednesday with a 3-2 overtime victory over visiting Carolina on Jason Pominville's goal 56 seconds into the extra period.
"It's huge. We're making steps," said Pominville, who added an assist. "We're playing better hockey. We've dug ourselves in a big hole that isn't easy to get ourselves out of. But we believe."
Part of that belief may stem from the play of Ryan Miller, who has a 1.65 goals-against average and two shutouts on a 7-1-1 run after making 22 saves against the Hurricanes.
The 2009-10 Vezina Trophy winner has won six of his last seven meetings with the Bruins, making 35 stops through overtime in a 2-1 shootout victory Feb. 24. Miller was even better against them Feb. 8, turning away 36 shots in a 6-0 rout.
Buffalo could also use some consistency from Thomas Vanek, who ended a six-game drought with a goal and an assist Wednesday.
The left wing has 12 goals and three assists in his past 11 visits to Boston, including playoffs.
The Bruins are looking to build on Tuesday's 5-4 victory at Toronto by winning back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 10 and 12.
Jordan Caron is providing some surprising scoring punch, scoring two goals and assisting on another against the Maple Leafs after getting one of each in Sunday's 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers. That production matched his total from his first 20 games of the season.
"When it goes in once, I think it gives you that confidence boost," said Caron, the 25th overall selection in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. "It pushes you to keep going. You feel like you've got more time when you have the puck."
Tyler Seguin has four goals and two assists in the past four games, scoring a pair Tuesday. He has been held without a point in the last two meetings with the Sabres after collecting three goals and two assists in the previous two.