One of them could lose that status Sunday night, and recent struggles on the road could mean the Predators are in jeopardy.
Buffalo (35-28-8) is eighth in the Eastern Conference, two points back of the seventh-place New York Rangers and two ahead of Carolina in ninth.
The Predators (37-25-10) are in similar position in the tightly packed West, tied with Chicago for seventh and one point ahead of Calgary and Anaheim, tied for ninth place.
Playing seven of its remaining 10 regular season games at home should be a benefit to Nashville, which has won four of five as host after an impressive 3-1 victory over Central Division-leading Detroit on Saturday.
Beginning that season-ending stretch with a visit to Buffalo may not be ideal for the Predators, who have dropped eight of 10 on the road while scoring three or fewer goals in each of the defeats.
At least Nashville is getting production from some unlikely sources. Blake Geoffrion(notes) and Jonathon Blum(notes) each scored Saturday, giving the rookies three goals apiece since being recalled from the minors last month.
“Everybody’s digging in, and we’re finding ways and everybody’s contributing,” coach Barry Trotz said. “You’d ask people to step up, play a little bit out of their element but give what they have and play to their potential a little bit more. … We’re hanging in there.”
Continued production from various players may be key, as the Predators are one of three teams (Ottawa and Phoenix) without a 20-goal scorer. Nashville’s 186 total goals are better than only Minnesota and Edmonton in the conference.
Rinne has split two meetings with Buffalo, allowing one goal on 72 shots. However, that was a tally by Mike Grier(notes) with 3:25 left in regulation of a 1-0 loss at Nashville in the most recent meeting Oct. 10, 2009.
The Sabres, winners of three of the last four meetings in this series, got goals from seven players in Saturday’s 8-2 rout of Atlanta after losing 1-0 to Carolina on Tuesday, despite generating 40 shots on net.
“I lost count there,” said center Nathan Gerbe(notes), who had a goal and assisted on Mark Mancari’s(notes) first of the season. “It gives you confidence, but again, we’ve got to remember why we got those goals: the hard work. That’s what stood out in my mind.”
Buffalo has been hot since Jan. 1, going 20-10-4 and 8-3-2 - 4-1-1 at home - since Terry Pegula completed his purchase of the team last month.
“We’ve been playing some pretty good hockey for a little while, and this team doesn’t get frustrated,” said center Rob Niedermayer(notes), who had two goals against the Thrashers. “You’ve just got to be playing good hockey at the right time.”
Leading scorer Tomas Vanek is putting together a strong stretch with two goals and seven assists over the last seven games. The left wing, though, has no points in the past two meetings with Nashville after getting three assists in the previous two.