Sabres host Rangers in key Eastern battle

A victory on Friday night would give the New York Rangers sole possession of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It would also end the Buffalo Sabres' desperate pursuit of a postseason bid.

The two teams get together on Friday night in western New York.

The Rangers and Winnipeg Jets are tied in the standings with 48 points, but New York holds the current tiebreaker -- and eighth place -- due to having played one fewer game. The Rangers have five games left in the regular season to the Jets' four and Winnipeg is idle tonight.

The Sabres, meanwhile, are four points back of eighth place and also have just four games left. A regulation loss to the Rangers tonight would eliminate Buffalo in the playoff race.

New York has kept itself in the driver's seat by going 6-2-1 in its last nine games. The Rangers picked up a big victory on Thursday night, besting the Florida Panthers 6-1 behind two goals each from Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard.

Rick Nash added a goal and two assists and Brad Richards also scored and assisted on another goal for the Rangers, who are three points behind the seventh-place New York Islanders with a game in hand. Henrik Lundqvist came up with 34 saves in the win.

"We just made plays tonight," Brassard remarked. "We played a fast game and we just executed and guys finished. It's a big win and a big two points for us."

Forward Brian Boyle missed the game due to a leg injury sustained in Tuesday's 4-2 loss at Philadelphia and Chris Kreider was recalled from the minors to replace him in the lineup.

Buffalo has kept its faint playoff chances alive by matching a season-high three-game winning streak with Wednesday's 3-2 shootout win over the Boston Bruins. It was the first professional sports game in the city of Boston since the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday.

The Sabres got a game-tying power-play goal from Cody Hodgson with 26.6 seconds left in regulation and Drew Stafford had the shootout winner.

Following the shootout, both teams took to the ice and raised their sticks to the crowd in a final salute of the night.

Thomas Vanek also scored and Ryan Miller made 41 saves in Buffalo's sixth victory in eight games.

"We're hanging around," said Hodgson. "Right from the start I don't think anybody really gave us a chance. Instead we're right in the race."

The Sabres have lost four of their past six versus the Rangers, but did pick up a 3-1 home victory in the most recent encounter on March 12.