Sabres-Rangers Preview

The Associated Press

The New York Rangers know they are headed to the playoffs, but they are looking to be more consistent as they seek the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Buffalo Sabres are just hoping they'll be joining the Rangers in the postseason.

New York will go for its third straight victory overall Friday night when it tries to complete a four-game sweep of the season series with visiting Buffalo.

With nine games remaining, the Rangers are clinging to a one-point lead over Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division lead and first place in the East. Third-place Philadelphia lurks five points behind.

New York (46-20-7) has won its last two games after dropping five of the previous seven, and is coming off a 2-1 overtime victory over Detroit on Wednesday.

Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan scored the goals for the Rangers, with Callahan's winner coming 2:42 into the extra session on his 27th birthday.

"We're starting to get our grove back," said Callahan, who has four goals in his last eight games to bring his season total to 27. "We're starting to play how we want and how we were playing earlier in the year."

The Rangers have scored two goals or fewer in five of their last nine games, but neither Callahan nor Richards can be blamed. Richards has six goals and six assists in his last eight games.

"He's just seeing things better and he's allowing himself to play," coach John Tortorella said.

Tortorella's club has won all three meetings with Buffalo this season although the last two have gone past regulation. Callahan provided the winning margin in both, scoring in overtime of the Rangers' 3-2 home win Feb. 25, and netting the deciding shootout goal in a 1-0 decision Feb. 1 at Buffalo.

Buffalo (35-29-10) may be even more eager for wins than New York, as its situation is much more dire.

The Sabres are currently ninth in the East - one point behind Washington for the final playoff spot. Three of their next four games are against teams that currently occupy playoff spots, including a visit to the Capitals next Tuesday.

"We've put together a good run to be where we're at," coach Lindy Ruff said. "There's a tough schedule ahead of us, but it's rewarding to get us as close as we've gotten right now."

Buffalo has won its last two games and has taken away at least one point from its last six (4-0-2). After a 7-3 victory at Tampa Bay on Monday, the Sabres returned home and defeated Montreal 3-0 on Wednesday.

Ryan Miller made 34 saves for his career-high sixth shutout of the season while rookie center Cody Hodgson scored twice - his first goals in 12 games since the Sabres acquired him from Vancouver.

Stellar goaltending by Miller has helped the Sabres climb back into playoff contention. He is 11-1-3 with a 1.89 goals-against average in his last 15 starts.

"I'm trying not to be satisfied," Miller said. "We've got a lot of hockey left to play."

Miller was in net for each of the last two losses to the Rangers despite limiting New York to three goals on 57 shots. His career numbers remain excellent played at Madison Square Garden, where he's 6-2-2 with a 2.35 goals-against average in 10 starts.

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