(AP) — The Buffalo Sabres may have a difficult time repeating as Northeast Division champions, but a second straight playoff berth is within reach.
The Sabres look to rebound from a rough start to their season-high six-game homestand when they face the St. Louis Blues, who have enjoyed plenty of success in western New York, on Friday night.
Buffalo (27-23-6) will have to stay hot to win back-to-back division crowns for the first time since 1980-81, as it’s in danger of falling too far behind Boston and Montreal to catch the top two Northeast teams.
The Sabres may need to concentrate on getting into the postseason at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff draw, as they’re two points out of eighth place.
Buffalo earned a key 3-2 shootout victory at Montreal on Monday, prevailing in a tiebreaker that went 10 rounds. The Sabres couldn’t keep their momentum going the next night, however, falling 2-1 to Toronto after being outshot 25-15 in the final two periods.
“We started well, but as the game went on, we lacked energy,” said coach Lindy Ruff, whose club came in on a 4-0-1 streak.
Yielding an NHL-worst 11th short-handed goal in the third period may have played a part in that.
“Tonight was a tough one for us,” Buffalo’s Ryan Miller said after making 28 saves.
Miller, who did not dress Tuesday and had his streak of 31 consecutive starts end, has allowed nine goals while losing his last two outings. He had gone 12-3-1 with a 2.74 goals-against average in the previous 17.
In St. Louis’ last visit to HSBC Arena, Miller turned away 30 shots as the Sabres ended a 10-game skid in the series with a 4-3 victory Nov. 12, 2008. The Blues had won their previous six in Buffalo.
St. Louis (25-21-9) will look to get back to its winning ways at HSBC after defeating Vancouver 3-2 on Monday. The Blues avoided a third straight loss.
“I think the desperation was there,” coach Davis Payne said. “It was five guys going over the boards, making sure they made the right plays. A big step for our club.”
The Blues got power-play goals from Andy McDonald and Patrik Berglund. St. Louis is 3 for 9 on the power play over the last two games after going 5 of 49 in its previous 16 contests.
The Blues last won two straight during a 5-0 run from Dec. 21-31.
Top goaltender Jaroslav Halak was placed on injured reserve Thursday with a hand injury, so Ty Conklin will likely be in net for this matchup. He stopped all 11 shots he faced in a 3-1 loss at Minnesota on Saturday after Halak was pulled.
Conklin is 6-1-0 with a 1.70 GAA in seven starts against Buffalo, though he was in goal for the teams’ last matchup, a 5-3 Sabres road win Dec. 27, 2009.
Blues center Alex Steen, who scored twice in that game, ended an 11-game goal drought Monday.
Sabres forward Drew Stafford has nine goals and two assists in the last six contests.
This is the only meeting between St. Louis and Buffalo in 2010-11.