The Buffalo Sabres are surging, and possibly getting one of their top scorers back may help them continue their strong play and prevent the Dallas Stars from winning back-to-back road games for the first time in almost two months.
The Sabres may get a lift from Thomas Vanek's expected return when they try to continue their home success against the Stars on Friday night.
Buffalo (23-24-6) may be toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, but it has won four of five after enduring a 1-7-1 stretch that included a five-game slide.
The Sabres are outscoring opponents 15-6 over the last five games, including a 6-0 win over Boston on Wednesday for their best offensive display of the season.
They may be in for another offensive boost with Vanek likely to be back from an upper-body injury that has forced him to miss three games.
"We put him through a battery of extra tests after practice (Thursday). We'll see how he's feeling in the morning," coach Lindy Ruff told the team's official website. "He's the only one who knows whether he can go or not. If he says he's ready to go, and doesn't have any ill effects from what happened (Thursday), then he'll be back in."
Vanek is tied with Jason Pominville with a team-leading 19 goals and his 41 points are second to his fellow forward's 50. The left wing, however, managed just one assist during a 10-game goal drought prior to getting hurt, and it's unclear which line he'll be inserted into.
It appears Ruff won't be joining Vanek on the bench, as he continues to nurse several broken ribs after being upended by defenseman Jordan Leopold in an on-ice collision during practice Monday. Ruff spent Wednesday's game in the press box while assistant James Patrick coached the team.
Ryan Miller figures to be in net after making 36 saves against the Bruins to improve to 4-0-1 with a 0.95 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last five starts. He's won all three of his career starts against the Stars (28-23-2) but hasn't faced them since a 5-3 home win March 10, 2010.
Buffalo lost the only matchup last season, falling 4-0 in Dallas to end its five-game winning streak in the series. The Sabres have five wins and a tie in their last six home games against the Stars dating to a 4-2 loss Oct. 7, 1997.
The Stars, 13-13-0 on the road, are trying to build on Thursday's 4-2 win over NHL-worst Columbus. They last won back-to-back games as the visitor during a season-high three-game road winning streak Oct. 25-Nov. 8.
Continued success away from home could help improve their tenuous playoff position. They're two points behind Phoenix for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference.
"It's going to be tough. Every year is, those last 30 games of the year," said defenseman Alex Goligoski, who had a goal and an assist against the Blue Jackets. "Everybody's fighting for position. And you've got other teams fighting for other reasons, for jobs and whatnot."
Jamie Benn is providing some scoring punch on the road, totaling seven goals and seven assists in the last 11 games after scoring twice Thursday. The All-Star left wing scored a goal while setting up another in his only visit to Buffalo on March 10, 2010.