Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

March 4, 2012

Sabres surging into playoff picture

The Stanley Cup playoffs are a month away, but if the regular season ended today, so would the Buffalo Sabres hopes of contending for a Cup.

That’s why coach Lindy Ruff has taken to calling the remaining games on the Sabres schedule as “our playoffs.”

After beating the NHL-leading Vancouver Canucks 5-3 on Saturday night, the Sabres improved to 6-0-2 in their past eight games and moved within two points of eight-place Winnipeg in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re battling hard to get back in the picture,” Ruff said. “When you can beat a team that’s basically the first-place team in the league, it’s a big plus.”

Buffalo is currently 11th in the East with 68 points, one point behind Washington, which lost Sunday night against Philadelphia. They can gain further ground in the standings tonight when they play at Winnipeg.

The Jets are wrapping up an eight-game homestand during which they have gone 4-1-2.

The Sabres are closing out a four-game swing on the West coast in which they have not lost yet.

In addition to the wins, the Sabres are getting resurgent performances from key players who struggled earlier this season.

Goaltender Ryan Miller has been sensational, nearly matching his personal-best shutout streak, and free agent acquisition Ville Leino scored twice Saturday to end a 14-game goal drought.

“It’s been a tough season,” Leino said. “It hasn’t gone my way and it hasn’t gone the team’s way. But there’s still a chance to make the playoffs and have fun here at the end. There are games you want to play, when things count. And obviously every game counts now.”

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