The Buffalo Sabres have been playing games that mean nothing to them in the standings for months. But the Rochester Amerks are playing games that mean everything every night.
General Manager Tim Murray and coach Ted Nolan have said on several occasions they want the Amerks to sneak into the AHL playoffs to give Buffalo prospects some postseason experience.
With the Sabres’ roster getting healthier, the Amerks are bulking up for their final six games.
The Amerks entered Wednesday with a one-point lead and a game in hand on Rockford for the final spot in the AHL’s Western Conference.
They have a one-point lead and two games in hand on Charlotte. They host Toronto Friday, play Saturday at Hamilton and Sunday at Lake Erie.
Rochester then has three games next week, Wednesday at Utica, the April 18 home finale against Syracuse and the April 19 season finale at Toronto.
Forwards Johan Larsson and Nicolas Deslauriers were returned to Rochester on Wednesday. Nolan said a defenseman should be heading to Rochester for the weekend as well, and that would likely be Mark Pysyk.
Goalie Andrey Makarov will back up Matt Hackett tonight in New York, then return to the Amerks. Rochester coach Chadd Cassidy said “absolutely” when asked by Rochester reporters Wednesday if Makarov could play all three games this weekend.
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen told The News after practice Wednesday that he’s just going day by day, is planning on playing tonight in New York and will then take his next assignment from there.
“Hopefully they make it to the playoffs and I get a chance to play a little playoff hockey,” Ristolainen said. “I’m going day by day right now. You never know what happens.”
Ristolainen has gotten more than 20 minutes of ice time in six straight games and nine of his last 11. He played a career-high 24:50 Sunday in Philadelphia.
“I’m really enjoying my game now. The start of the season was tough, but I feel I’m getting better all the time. Hopefully I continue that next year and be a better player than now.
Winger Drew Stafford will play for the Sabres tonight after missing the last four games with an undisclosed injury. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder (lower body) is a game-time decision after missing four straight and could also play. Nolan has ruled Tyler Myers out for the final three games.
Stafford skated in practice on the top line with Tyler Ennis and Chris Stewart.
“We’re playing for pride. It’s a real test of character here, putting in the effort and playing to the end,” Stafford said. “It’s been frustrating for me. Hopefully now I’m back and will finish strong.”
“Drew had a real good practice today,” Nolan said. “He skated about 10 minutes, looked at me and said he’s ready to go. That’s a real big addition to our team for sure.”
Cory Conacher skated as an extra on the Ennis line in practice Wednesday and could be a scratch tonight along with John Scott.
The other lines in practice Wednesday had Zemgus Girgensons centering Cody Hodgson and Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn between Foligno and Matt D’Agostini and Matt Ellis between Ville Leino and Zenon Konopka.
Konopka has not played since his back tightened up on the cross-country flight from Vancouver to Montreal on March 24.
Tonight’s game is the Rangers’ home finale and they enter it with a two-point lead over Philadelphia in the battle for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They are 8-2-1 in their last 11 games.
The Rangers have won both meetings with the Sabres this year and have taken seven of the last nine. They have been red-hot on the penalty kill of late, going 43 of 46 in the last 18 games – and scoring seven short-handed goals.