The Buffalo Sabres were a major help to the Boston Bruins’ playoff bid in their last game, clinching the Northeast Division by beating the only team that could still catch the eighth-place Bruins in the Eastern Conference.
The Sabres, however, hope to be a hindrance to their Northeast rivals Thursday night, with the host Bruins badly in need of a victory to hold their ground in the postseason chase.
Boston (36-30-13) holds a slim lead on the ninth-place New York Rangers, thanks in part to Buffalo’s 5-2 win over the Rangers on Tuesday night.
The banged-up Bruins have been idle since Monday, when they lost 3-2 in overtime at Washington.
Earning victories has been a struggle for Boston, which finished atop the East last season but has been slowed by key injuries and the league’s least potent offense.
With top center Marc Savard(notes) still out following last month’s severe concussion, the Bruins have been held to two or fewer goals in five straight games, a stretch that began with a 3-2 home loss to Buffalo on March 29.
They’re still 2-2-1 in that span to remain in control of their own destiny. Boston could also catch sixth-place Montreal and seventh-place Philadelphia, an outcome that may create a first-round playoff matchup with Buffalo (44-25-10).
“I think right now, it’s a matter of let’s not think too much about it,” coach Claude Julien told the Bruins’ official Web site. “Let’s think about what we need to do here to win these last three games.”
Boston’s strong defense is the primary reason it is still in contention, but the defensive corps has been crippled by injury lately. Dennis Seidenberg(notes) is out for the season with an arm injury that required surgery, while Andrew Ference(notes) (hernia) and Mark Stuart(notes) (cellulitis) also remain sidelined.
Buffalo’s front line is also weakened. Leading scorer Tim Connolly(notes) (lower-body injury) is out for the rest of the regular season and former 40-goal scorer Thomas Vanek(notes) (groin) won’t return until this weekend.
After missing the playoffs each of the last two seasons, the Sabres secured the division title by beating the Rangers.
The Sabres are jockeying with the Atlantic Division’s top teams for the No. 2 seed in the East, trailing New Jersey by one point and leading Pittsburgh by the same margin.
Coach Lindy Ruff plans to get Miller some rest in the final three games, although backup Patrick Lalime(notes) (illness) may not be ready to start Thursday. Miller has matched his own franchise single-season record with 40 wins in addition to leading the United States to a silver medal at the Olympics.
Miller, who made 40 saves in Boston last month, ranks third in the NHL with a 2.23 goals-against average. Bruins rookie Tuukka Rask(notes) leads the league with a 1.99 GAA and has gone 3-1-0 with a 1.52 GAA against the Sabres.
Each team has earned six points from the five meetings in the season series.