Published January 08, 2015
(SportsNetwork.com) - In the first game following the NHL's break for the Olympics, the Carolina Hurricanes hope to give their postseason chances a boost when they visit the lowly Buffalo Sabres for Tuesday's clash at First Niagara Center.
This contest was originally scheduled for Jan. 7 before wintry weather forced that meeting to be postponed until tonight. The clubs met once after that postponement when the Hurricanes notched a 5-3 win in Buffalo on Jan. 23. Alexander Semin had two goals in Carolina's triumph, while Anton Khudobin -- the NHL's First Star for January -- turned aside 26-of-29 shots.
Khudobin could hold the key to getting Carolina back to the postseason for the first time since the spring of 2009. The 27-year-old Russian is turning heads in his first season in Raleigh and has clearly outplayed longtime No. 1 backstop Cam Ward in 2013-14. Khudobin entered the Olympic break with a 19-13-6 record, 2.14 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. Ward, meanwhile, is 6-7-5 with a 3.15 GAA and .895 save percentage.
Carolina enters Tuesday three points out of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, and Khudobin could make a positive difference for the club down the stretch.
Although Khudobin helped the 'Canes win six of their last nine games before the break, the club did find itself on the losing end in three of its final five tests prior to the Olympics.
"It's a restart button for everybody," said Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller of the time off. "It's a great opportunity for everyone to take a deep breath and use this break mentally and physically. Our goal is to make the playoffs, and we're going to need everybody."
Carolina was 2-2-0 on a four-game homestand that completed the team's pre- Olympics schedule and the club will emerge from the hiatus to begin a five- game road trip. The Hurricanes are just 11-10-4 as the visiting team this season.
With its win last month in Buffalo, the Hurricanes have won two straight and four of their past five games in western New York. Carolina has claimed four in a row and five of six in the series overall.
Buffalo entered the break last in the NHL with only 38 points, and all eyes will be on goaltender Ryan Miller over the next few weeks, as the rebuilding club mulls over whether or not to deal the star netminder before the league's trade deadline on March 5.
Miller is in the final year of his contract and could opt to leave Buffalo via free agency over the summer. The 33-year-old served as backup to Jonathan Quick for Team USA in February and he could make the difference for a playoff hopeful team down the stretch.
Buffalo ended its pre-Olympic schedule on a four-game losing streak and it will try to halt that 0-4-0 stretch tonight.
Like Miller, Sabres forward Steve Ott is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent over the summer, and, unless Buffalo is able to sign Ott to an extension, his days in Buffalo could be numbered as well.
"Obviously I told them I want to be here," Ott recently told his club's official web site. "We'll see where it all goes. I'm professional enough to know the business side of things as well and what the situation is here as well. We'll see how it all plays out in the next two weeks or so."
Buffalo is beginning a three-game homestand on Tuesday, but that is hardly a consolation for a club that has lost eight straight as the host. All told, the Sabres are 9-17-5 as the home team this season.
The Sabres also will be in action on Wednesday night when they host the Boston Bruins.