PREVIEW 5:30 AM EDT
In their final home game of the 2011-12 regular season, the Philadelphia Flyers (46-25-9) will attempt to do their part toward playing for Eastern Conference Quarterfinal home ice in Saturday's season finale. In order for Saturday's game to have any significance in the final standings, the Flyers must beat the Buffalo Sabres (39-31-10) tonight while the Pittsburgh Penguins must lose to the New York Rangers.
For Buffalo, tonight's game is of far more vital significance. With two games left in the regular season, the club is tied in points (88) with the Washington Capitals for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres would lose out to Washington on a tiebreaker (regulation/overtime wins) and the Caps have already clinched the tiebreaker, so Buffalo needs to beat them out on total points.
What that means in practical terms is that the Sabres do not fully control their own fate. However, if Buffalo wins tonight, the final playoff spot will come down to the last game of the regular season regardless of what the Capitals do tonight. But if the Sabres lose in regulation and the Capitals win by any means over Florida tonight, then Washington is in and Buffalo is out.
This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Flyers and Sabres. The Flyers have won the first three games but Buffalo has been playing much better hockey of late than at the time of the prior games. For one thing, Ryan Miller is back on his game. For another, the club is showing much more resilience, as exhibited in Tuesday's improbable comeback win over Toronto. Overall, the Sabres are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games.
The injury-riddled Flyers are coming off a disappointing performance in Tuesday's 5-3 home loss to the Rangers. Perhaps the most important factor to watch tonight for the Flyers is whether Ilya Bryzgalov is better able to move laterally and recover to make second saves than he was in the last game.
If so, his first-period movement problems last game were more a case of needing a period to regain his rhythm after being off-ice most of the previous eight days due to a chip fracture in his right foot. But Bryzgalov barely had to make any lateral-movement saves over the final 40 minutes of the last game, so I am still a bit concerned about him heading into this game.
Beyond making sure their goalie is physically OK to play at a high level in the playoffs, the team needs to avoid any more key injuries and start to get personnel back. The club remains without Danny Briere (back spasms), James van Riemsdyk (foot surgery), Nicklas Grossmann (knee injury), Andrej Meszaros (back surgery) and Tom Sesisto (groin tear surgery) as well as their three LTIR players who won't be back for the postseason.
Buffalo is quite banged up on its own blueline. The club is without either Tyler Myers (foot) or Christian Ehrhoff (left knee).
PROJECTED LINEUPS (subject to change)
Hartnell - Giroux - Jagr
Read - Schenn - Simmonds
Talbot - Couturier - Voracek
Shelley - Wellwood - Rinaldo
Timonen - Coburn
Carle - Kubina
Lilja - Bourdon
Leino - Roy - Pominville
Foligno - Ennis - Stafford
Tropp - Hodgson - Vanek
McCormick - Gerbe - Kaleta
Leopold - Sulzer
Regehr - Sekera
McNabb - Weber
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