A WILD NIGHT AHEAD
Saturday, 03.24.2012 / 3:18 PM
With seven games remaining, the Buffalo Sabres’ prospects of making the playoffs have brightened in the last few weeks.
Following a victory against the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers last night, the Sabres return to First Niagara Center tonight at 7 p.m. to take on the Minnesota Wild.
Buffalo currently sits in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 82 points, tied in points with eighth-place Washington and two back from seventh-place Ottawa. The Capitals and Senators have also played 75 games. Boston leads the Northeast Division with 87 points and has nine games remaining.
“I think there’s a ways to go to get Boston in play,” said head coach Lindy Ruff after this morning’s team meeting at the arena. “But the fact we put Ottawa within our sights, it’s important because it looked like a week ago there was going to be one spot up for grabs and now there looks like there’s four teams probably battling for two.”
The Capitals gave up a 3-0 lead to the Winnipeg Jets at home last night and ended up losing 4-3 in overtime. Winnipeg is in the mix for the playoffs as well as they hold the 10th seed with 78 points and eight games to play. The Sabres may be scoreboard watching, but they know that what they do on the ice is the most pressing matter.
“We’ve got to take of our own business,” Ruff said. “Obviously for [Washington] to get one was better than getting two. That gap, it looks like there’s going to be a couple teams involved now, maybe a couple spots and hopefully we can put together the type of effort we need tonight to win a game.”
Meanwhile, the Wild hold the 13th seed in the Western Conference, 13 points out of a playoff spot. They’re led in scoring by winger Dany Heatley, who has 21 goals and 47 points this season. Captain Mikko Koivu returned to the lineup on Thursday after missing 15 games with an upper-body injury.
“They’ve got a real good first line,” said Sabres forward Ville Leino. “Koivu’s a real good player in both ends. [Devin] Setoguchi and Heatley are creative players and good scorers. We’ve got to definitely keep an eye on those guys. They’re going to work hard and we’ve got to work hard, too.
Forward Travis Turnbull opened the scoring for the Sabres last night with his first career NHL goal. Driving hard to the net on a line with Cody McCormick and Brad Boyes, Turbull was driven into the end boards to the right of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist by Rangers defenseman Stu Bickel. Turnbull threw the puck out in front and it ended up deflecting off John Mitchell’s skate and past his own goaltender.
“I knew right away because I heard Cody yelling, ‘You scored!’” Turnbull said. “I took a look over my shoulder as I was going in the corner. I saw Boysie coming in and I tried to dish it out to Boysie while I was getting hit. It was fortunate enough to go off Mitchell’s skate there and go five-hole.”
Turbull skated 3:27 in his second NHL game last night and impressed Ruff was his hard work.
“I thought it was the greatest goal of the game if you ask me,” Ruff said. “I think anytime you can score, the effort to get there – we got a bounce obviously – we’ve had some situation where we didn’t get them, but that was a good time for us.”
In 53 games with the Rochester Americans this season, Turnbull put up 12 goals, 15 assists and 94 penalty minutes. The 25-year-old rookie is currently up with the Sabres in place of injured Patrick Kaleta and he’s relishing every moment in his first NHL call-up. Getting a goal has certainly made it that much more memorable.
“Oh my gosh, it was awesome. All the guys were so great to me, especially Boyes and McCormick in helping me out here in my first couple games here in the NHL. They told me what a big goal. t was a feeling that you dream of as a little kid and it happened last night at Madison Square Garden. It was great but even better that we got the win.”
Turnbull, a native of St. Louis, said all of his friends were watching the game at the local Buffalo Wild Wings. He said his phone and Facebook and Twitter accounts have been blowing up since he was called up and scoring that goal didn’t slow down the influx of messages.
“It’s been crazy but I’ve been trying to get back to people through one message kind of saying, ‘I’ll get back to everybody when it kind of settles down here,’” he said. “I’m just trying to concentrate on the games.”
The Sabres held an optional skate after this morning’s meeting with only a handful of players taking the ice including Kaleta, Jochen Hecht and Jhonas Enroth.
Ryan Miller has started in goal for 17 of Buffalo’s last 18 games and has appeared in 28 of the last 29. Coming off a back-to-back situation, Ruff could go with Enroth tonight but wouldn’t tip his hand. Miller allowed one goal on 27 shots last night.
“They know who’s playing… I’m not going to tell you. I want the opposition to guess,” Ruff told the media with a grin. “We made a decision earlier in the week what the schedule was going to be and we’re sticking to it.”