The Thrashers' two visits to Buffalo this season are both under emotional circumstances, but at two ends of the spectrum. The last visit Atlanta paid to Buffalo, the French Connection line was center ice to welcome new owner Terry Peugla. Tonight, the Sabres honor a member of that line, Rick Martin, who passed away on March 13th from a heart attack. Thrashers head coach Craig Ramsay was a close friend of Martin, and offered up words of remembrance. The Sabres will be honoring Martin with his number seven behind both goals.
The Thrashers absolutely have to defeat the Sabres tonight, and a win would make the evening bittersweet for Ramsay on the night that the Sabres honor his friend. That's the game, and during the playoff race, every game matters. The Thrashers, with a win tonight, could close the gap between them and 8th place to just two tiny points. It'd still be an uphill battle to make the postseason, but every win increases that possibility, where any loss could be detrimental.
Buffalo has won two of the three meetings so far this season, after the Thrashers held up a 0-1-5 record against the Sabres. The starting goaltenders will be facing a bit of an uphill climb tonight. Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller has a tiny 1.72 GAA in his last seven home starts, but has won only twice in that span. Where Buffalo has been having problems offensively, the Thrashers have thrived. Part of the key to their success has been the re-emergence of secondary scoring. Tim Stapleton scored his fourth of the season on Thursday evening against the Flyers, and has been strong on the line with dishmaster Evander Kane. The top line of Blake Wheeler-Bryan Little-Andrew Ladd has also been very strong in pressuring the opposition.
Ondrej Pavelec could stand to improve slightly on the road. He is 2-6-2 with a 3.97 GAA in his last ten road games. If Atlanta wants to win tonight, he needs to step it up and put on a highlight reel performance. It's almost unfair that as the Thrashers have found their guns again, Pavelec's gone weak. The Sabres are hungry for points just like the rest of the Eastern Conference, and they will pounce on any miscues or surrendered leads that the Thrashers might toss their way.