With nine games remaining on their regular-season schedule, the Buffalo Sabres face a daunting task to make the Stanley Cup playoffs.
When Buffalo completes its two-game homestand Friday night with a matchup against the New York Rangers, the Sabres should have a pretty good understanding of whether or not their longshot aspirations of postseason play still exist.
Barring a collapse by both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers, the Sabres (35-31-7, 77 points) will have the steepest of uphill climbs to keep playing well into April.
With Pittsburgh and Florida both winning on Thursday night, Buffalo fell seven points behind the Penguins and six back of the Panthers in the chase for the final Eastern Conference wild card.
However, the Sabres do have an X factor in all of this if they can get within striking distance.
They have nine games left, including Friday's, while Pittsburgh and Florida have seven and six to go, respectively.
Obviously, what can't happen the rest of the way is what happened to Buffalo in the homestand opener against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.
The Canadiens' Brendan Gallagher tied the game in the third period by ringing home his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored in the bottom of the sixth round of a shootout as Montreal won 4-3.
"That's a tough one to swallow tonight," Sabres goaltender Eric Comrie said of not getting the extra point. "That's a really tough pill to swallow."
If the season does go south for the Sabres, they may find solace in the play of winger Lukas Rousek, who had a goal and an assist in his NHL debut on Monday.
The 23-year-old Czech Republic native became the seventh Buffalo player to notch two points in his debut. The last to do it had been Maxim Afinogenov on Nov. 10, 1999.
Rousek replaced Tage Thompson (upper body), who missed his first game this season after getting injured over the weekend.
"He's got a feel for the game," Buffalo coach Don Granato said of Rousek. "Obviously, he knows us, he knows our systems, he knows what he's doing."
In New Jersey on Thursday night, the Rangers (44-21-10, 98 points) absorbed a 2-1 setback against the club they would meet in the first round of the playoffs if the standings remain as they are.
The Rangers, who sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division, are four points behind the second-place Devils, who would hold home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series under the current standings.
New York allowed first-period goals to Erik Haula and Timo Meier, and the Rangers could only muster Chris Kreider's 33rd goal in the match's remainder.
By scoring for the sixth time in the past 10 games, Kreider notched the 262nd goal of his career, tying him with Vic Hadfield for fifth all-time in franchise history.
The loss broke the three-game winning streak of the Rangers, who are 9-2-1 in their past 12 games.
"They were fast and they were quick and that's how they play," Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said of the Devils. "We don't know who we're playing yet (in the playoffs), but if this is the team, it's a good matchup. We'll see where it goes."
Added New York defenseman Adam Fox: "This was a big game for us standings-wise, but playing a team like Buffalo, those points matter just as much, too."
--Field Level Media