The fact the Buffalo Sabres were playing without their top goal-scorer and best goaltender was apparent in the team’s last game.
Luckily for the Sabres, the Carolina Hurricanes failed to capitalize on that loss by turning in a similar performance.
In a matchup between teams fighting for playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the Sabres hope to protect their hold on eighth place as they visit the ninth-place Hurricanes on Thursday night.
Buffalo (31-24-6) is tied with Florida with 68 points, but the Panthers have an edge for seventh in the East because they have one game in hand. That leaves the Sabres with a tentative hold on the eighth and final playoff spot, one point ahead of the Hurricanes (31-26-5).
If its first game since losing starting goaltender Ryan Miller is any indication, Buffalo could have a hard time staying among the East’s top eight. The Sabres suffered a 3-2 home loss to Anaheim on Tuesday night.
Miller missed the contest with a high ankle sprain he suffered in Saturday night’s win over the New York Rangers and is out indefinitely. He joined Thomas Vanek, Buffalo’s leader with 32 goals, on the sidelines. Vanek hasn’t played since Feb. 7 because of a broken jaw that’s expected to keep him out at least another week.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said his team needs to play better to compensate for the absence of its stars.
“This is the time of year that you have to step up,” Ruff said. “I don’t think we won quite enough battles. We didn’t quite get there.”
Patrick Lalime gave up three goals while facing only 21 shots in his first start in net since Feb. 2. He’s gone 0-4-0 with a 3.25 goals-against average in six games—four starts—since his last win Dec. 13, falling to 2-8-1 overall.
Buffalo lost Tuesday despite outshooting Anaheim 36-21. Carolina had an ever greater shot advantage Tuesday, outshooting Ottawa 43-22 in a 4-2 defeat that ended a three-game winning streak. Cam Ward allowed three goals on nine shots in the first period.
“We outshot them by a ton, we gave up four goals on (22) shots,” coach Paul Maurice said. “I didn’t think they were that good. I didn’t think we were that good. … I’m not looking at Cam Ward and saying, ‘Hey, that’s your fault,’ but he didn’t stop enough, we didn’t score enough and that’s the game.”
The Hurricanes know they missed a chance to make up some ground in the East standings.
“It would have been a good night for us to get some points on all those teams that we’re chasing,” said right winger Patrick Eaves, who scored in the first period. “We got a lot of shots, but didn’t score on our opportunities.”
The Hurricanes have split their first two meetings with the Sabres, both in Buffalo. They lost 3-1 on Jan. 17 to fall to 2-7-1 in their last 10 games in the series before taking a 3-0 victory Feb. 15.
Eric Staal had a goal and two assists in that game, and Ward made 36 saves for his fourth shutout of the season.
Ward is 3-4-1 with a 3.45 GAA in eight career games against Buffalo.
Lalime has had far more success against Carolina, going 11-4-0 with three ties, two shutouts and a 1.79 GAA in 19 games—18 starts.