Sabres vie to get back on track vs. surging Predators

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As the NHL season heads into its critical stretch, the Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators are heading in separate directions.

The two teams will face off on Tuesday in Buffalo.

After a strong start through the first three weeks of February, the Sabres came out of their bye with a disastrous set of back-to-back games over the weekend that may have permanently derailed any hopes of a late playoff push.

On Saturday, the Sabres (26-26-10) sustained a 5-3 defeat to the worst team in the league, the Colorado Avalanche. One day later, they fell to the Arizona Coyotes — the second-worst team in the NHL in points — after surrendering the winning goal with 18.9 seconds remaining. The losses put Buffalo seven points behind the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Sabres were especially frustrated after the loss to Arizona.

“We just didn’t do enough to win the game,” Sabres center Jack Eichel said, according to the team’s website. “It’s frustrating. These are the ones that we need to have and we’re just slowly (taking) our chances away. It’s frustrating for all of us. I don’t know what it is, but we sit back, let them take the puck to us. We don’t push for that next one. We’re not forcing turnovers. We’re not getting in a forecheck.

“It seems like everyone just skates backwards. Every single guy is at fault here. As a group, we’ve been losing. We didn’t do enough to win the game.”

Eichel had a goal and an assist in the loss and continues to be a bright spot for the Sabres despite their recent turn of events. On the season, Eichel has 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 41 games.

All three of Arizona’s goals came in the third period against Buffalo.

“Regardless of the opponents, it can’t happen,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said after the loss to Arizona, according to the team’s website. “And we just got the feel where you have the two points in your back pocket and you let them slip away.”

The Predators (31-22-9), meanwhile, are in third place in the Central Division and appear to be well on their way to the postseason.

Nashville is riding a three-game win streak with recent victories over Colorado, Washington and Edmonton. The Predators have brought the offense as of late with 23 goals in their last five games; their only loss over that span was a 6-5 overtime loss to Calgary on Feb. 21.

Filip Forsberg was named the NHL’s First Star last week after an incredible showing of eight goals and two assists in four games. Forsberg had back-to-back hat tricks against Calgary and Colorado.

“I’ve been working on my shot as long as I can remember playing hockey,” Forsberg said, according to the team’s website. “I’ve always loved scoring goals and tried to do it in different ways.”

Forsberg (46 points — 24 goals, 22 assists) is second on his team in scoring, behind only center Ryan Johansen (47 points — nine goals, 38 assists).