Morning Skate Update: The Sabres did not hold a morning skate this morning, but Thomas Vanek skated on his own to see how he would respond to an undisclosed injury that kept him out of practice yesterday. Afterwards, the team’s top goal scorer said he felt well enough to play tonight against Carolina.
“I tested it out this morning, feel pretty good, so I’m going to be in (the lineup) tonight,” Vanek said.
Vanek also said that he sustained the injury early in the first period of Tuesday’s loss to Philadelphia. Despite the injury, he went on to log a season-high 24 minutes of ice time in the game.
Luke Adam, who missed Tuesday’s game with the flu, will be back in the lineup tonight, according to Lindy Ruff.
If Ryan Miller gets the start in goal tonight, it would mark his 20th consecutive start dating back to Nov. 26. Over the last 19 games, Miller and the Sabres have gone 10-7-2.
Season series: First of four meetings this season. The teams split their matchups on the 2009-10 slate, with Ryan Miller going 2-1-1 in net and Jochen Hecht leading all scorers with 4 goals for Buffalo. Eric Staal, Brandon Sutter and Sergei Samsonov recorded 2 goals apiece for Carolina.
Big story: The Hurricanes are on a 6-0-2 run that must have the Thrashers feeling the heat -- Atlanta's lead over Carolina for third in the Southeast Division and, more importantly, the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth is down to just three points, and the Hurricanes also have three games in hand.
Hurricanes: A pair of three-game winning streaks wrapped around two overtime defeats in which Carolina still picked up all-important points, and all of a sudden a playoff spot is well within sight. The Hurricanes will try to match their season high with a fourth straight win on Thursday. They needed a shootout Tuesday to claim a 6-5 victory over the Flames, who rallied from a three-goal deficit. Jussi Jokinen scored twice in his return from injury and rookie Jeff Skinner was the deciding factor in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.
"Tonight wasn't the greatest game, but you've got to find ways to win because you can't be perfect every night," said Tuomo Ruutu, who also scored.
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Sabres: In order to cut the gap between itself and the top eight, Buffalo needs to get on a run similar to what Carolina has put together -- the Sabres brought a two-game winning streak into Tuesday night's home game against the Flyers and had an early two-goal lead, but surrendered the final five goals in a 5-2 defeat. Paul Gaustad and Cody McCormick scored in the first 10 minutes only to be outdone by former Buffalo sniper Danny Briere, who finished with a goal and 3 assists for Philadelphia.
"It's definitely disappointing," said Miller, who stopped 28 shots. "If we're going to compete with the top teams and win the necessary amount of games to make the playoffs, we have to be better in certain areas."
Who's hot: Erik Cole has 4 goals in his last three games for the Hurricanes. Staal has 3 goals and 3 assists during a six-game points streak. The captain has 9 goals and 5 assists over his last 14 games. Ruutu (2-4-6) and Skinner (3-2-5) have three-game points streaks going.
Injury report: Carolina forward Ryan Carter (upper body) is day-to-day, while forward Jiri Tlusty (arm) is on injured reserve. … Buffalo forward Derek Roy (torn quad tendon) is out for the season, while forward Patrick Kaleta (arm) is day-to-day.
Stat pack: Staal has 470 career points and is three away from tying his predecessor as captain, Rod Brind'Amour, as the Hurricanes' all-time leader. … Roy continues to lead the Sabres with 35 points, despite not having played since Dec. 23. Thomas Vanek is second on the team with 31 points.
Puck drop: Buffalo had the crowd at HSBC Arena going Tuesday and the visitors on the ropes, but Philadelphia doesn't have the best record in the Eastern Conference for no reason. When the Sabres let up their guard, the Flyers took full advantage.
"We gave them everything they got," Gaustad told the Buffalo News. "I don't think it was them overwhelming us and taking over the game. It was mistakes we gave them. We had control and gave it up. That lies on the players. We've got a system and didn't execute for 60 minutes."