The Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals will fight for positioning in the Eastern Conference standings on Saturday, as the teams clash at the First Niagara Center in Western New York.
The Capitals and Sabres enter Saturday tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the East's 11th seed at 31 points apiece. That leaves the clubs four points out of the last playoff spot in the conference.
Washington owns a game in hand over the Sabres and the Caps are 2-0 in this season series. The Caps have won three of four and six of nine overall in this matchup, but Buffalo has won two straight and three of the past four encounters on home ice.
The Caps will try to bounce back from a loss tonight after dropping Tuesday's 3-2 regulation decision to the visiting New York Islanders. The Islanders received a game-winning goal from John Tavares in the late stages of the third period.
Braden Holtby stopped 28 shots for the Capitals, while Mike Ribeiro and John Carlson each added a goal.
"We talked about the Islanders. They're a better team than people think," said Washington head coach Adam Oates. "They've improved. They do a lot of things well, they're well coached. I don't think we took them lightly."
The Capitals, who are 7-9-1 as the guest this season, are kicking off a three- game road trip on Saturday. Washington also will play Philadelphia and Carolina during the jaunt.
Washington winger Alex Ovechkin was hit in the chin with a puck at practice on Thursday. Although he suffered a cut that required stitches, the Russian sniper is expected to play on Saturday.
Ovechkin had a five-game goal streak snapped on Tuesday, but he did record an assist to push his point run to six.
The Sabres have lost two straight but the club earned a point for the sixth time in seven games with Thursday's shootout setback at Florida. Mike Santorelli scored the game winner in the fourth round of the shootout, lifting the Panthers to the 5-4 win at the BB&T Center.
Jason Pominville started the shootout with a marker for the Sabres, but after the next two shooters missed, Jonathan Huberdeau lit the lamp with a slick move to bring the Panthers even. The next three shooters each came up empty before Santorelli skated in and avoided a Ryan Miller stick check before lifting a wrister over the prone Buffalo netminder.
Drew Stafford, a healthy scratch over the last two games, recorded a goal and an assist, while Nathan Gerbe, Andrej Sekera and Marcus Foligno each scored once for the Sabres. Miller made 36 saves.
"Obviously we didn't get the start we wanted, fell behind and kept composure and bounced back into the game, but again it's unfortunate to give up a lead," Pominville said. "Again, it's one of those one-goal games that we have to find a way to win."
The Sabres will try to get back on track at home, where they'll play two games on back-to-back days. Buffalo, which will host Boston on Sunday, is 6-6-2 as the host this season.
Sabres sniper Thomas Vanek missed Thursday's game with an upper body injury and is doubtful for Saturday. Vanek is leading the team this season with 16 goals, 17 assists and 33 points.