NY Rangers, Buffalo Sabres battle NHL odds

By: Barry Daniels | Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The battle for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot heats up Wednesday when the New York Rangers make the short trip to Buffalo for their fourth regular season meeting against the Sabres. The Verizon network will carry the matchup beginning at 4 p.m. (PT).

The Rangers have captured two of the first three meetings against the Sabres, with the total dipping ‘under’ the 5 ½-goal closing total on two occasions.

The initial matchup (Oct. 9) saw the Rangers blast Buffalo as 130 road underdogs 6-3 despite getting outshot, 36-28. The Sabres went 1-for-5 on the power play, while the Rangers were 0-for-3.

A little more than one month later (Nov. 11), the Rangers edged the Sabres 3-2 in overtime as 150 home favorites. Buffalo once again outshot New York, 31-28. Both squads failed to register a power play goal, with the Rangers getting five chances and the Sabres receiving two.

The most recent meeting (March 1) saw the Sabres edge the Rangers 3-2 as 110 road underdogs. The Rangers finally outshot the Sabres (31-26) and scored their first power play goal in the series (1-for-3). Buffalo notched both of its goals with the man advantage during three opportunities.

New York has the scheduling advantage in this spot. The Rangers have not played since Saturday, while the Sabres played Tuesday at Toronto. This will also be Buffalo’s fourth game in six nights.

The Rangers blanked Boston 1-0 in that Saturday game as 130 road underdogs. It was New York’s third straight ‘under’ game and allowed the ‘under’ to improve to 43-29-4 in the club’s first 76 overall outings.

Henrik Lundqvist recorded Saturday’s whitewash of the Bruins. It was his league-leading 11th shutout and raised his ledger to 33-24-2-3. Lundqvist also has a nifty 2.24 GAA and a stellar .924 save percentage.

John Tortorella’s Rangers have now won eight of their last 10 contests to move into seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 87 points. That was two points ahead of the eight-place Sabres prior to Buffalo’s game at Toronto on Tuesday.

Saturday’s victory also lifted New York’s road record to 23-14-1-0, which is considerably better than its 18-16-1-3 mark at Madison Square Garden.

Buffalo was riding a three-game winning streak prior to Tuesday contest at Toronto. The latest success occurred Saturday when the Sabres blanked the Devils as 145 home favorites, 2-0. The victory raised Buffalo’s home ledger to 18-16-3-1, which is not as good as its 20-12-3-1 road record.

Though the combined two goals dipped ‘under’ the 5 ½-goal closing total, the ‘over’ is still 37-36-2 in Buffalo’s first 75 overall encounters.

Ryan Miller stopped 30 shots for his fifth shutout of the season to lead the Sabres. It was also Miller’s 22nd career shutout and his second in the last three games. Miller is now 33-21-7-1 with a 2.58 GAA and a .916 save percentage.

Thomas Vanek and Nathan Gerbe scored first-period goals to lead Buffalo’s offense and help the club maintain its hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Playing back-to-back contests has not been a winning proposition for the Sabres this season, evidenced by their 6-10 record in that situation.

The Don Best Sports injury report lists Buffalo right wing Mike Grier as “probable” with a knee injury, while backup goalie Patrick Lalime is “questionable” with his knee ailment.

New York continues its four-game road excursion with a short trip to Long Island for a Thursday night matchup against the Islanders. Buffalo is off until Saturday when it travels to Washington for a contest against the Capitals.

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