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Sabres looking to improve playoff hopes

By Brett Huston

Stats Writer

Philadelphia (37-22-10) at Buffalo (34-28-8), 7:30 p.m. EDT

BUFFALO, New York (AP) -- The Philadelphia Flyers' grip on

home-ice advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference

playoffs is loosening, but even with three losses in four games

a spot in the postseason seems fairly secure.

The Buffalo Sabres' chances of cracking the top eight, on the

other hand, are getting worse by the day.

Two teams in need of points will face off Friday night at HSBC

Arena as the Flyers look to complete a four-game season sweep of

the fading Sabres.

Philadelphia has been entrenched in fourth place in the East for

most of the past two months, but that position is being

challenged by surging Pittsburgh. The cross-state rivals are

tied for second in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the

conference with 84 points, though the Flyers have three games in

hand.

They had an excellent chance to pick up two points in their

latest game, leading Stanley Cup champion Detroit 2-0 late in

the second period on the road Tuesday night. The Red Wings,

though, scored a goal shortly before the end of the second and

added two in the third to win 3-2, handing Philadelphia its

third loss in four games.

"We've got some work to do to catch up with them," coach John

Stevens said.

The Sabres, meanwhile, have some work to do to catch Carolina

for eighth place in the East. They trail the Hurricanes by five

points for the final spot - with two games in hand - and also

need to pass ninth-place Florida.

Buffalo has lost four of five, including a 5-2 loss to the

Flyers on March 10. The other three losses have been against

non-playoff teams, the latest 4-2 at Ottawa on Tuesday after the

Sabres led 2-0 after one period.

Buffalo had 13 shots in the game - seven after the second period

- a performance that left coach Lindy Ruff fuming.

"I'm very embarrassed. Embarrassed for our fans, embarrassed for

how we played the last forty minutes," Ruff said. "It's not

acceptable this time of year."

The Sabres' play against Philadelphia thus far this season

hasn't made Ruff feel any better. Buffalo has lost its three

meetings with the Flyers by three goals apiece, allowing 14

total.

Philadelphia scores 3.14 goals per game to rank third in the

East, but it's only scored eight goals in losing three of four.

The Flyers haven't gotten a goal from Jeff Carter -- third in

the league with 38 -- in those four games, and Carter has only

scored in one of Philadelphia's last 10 games.

That one game came last week when Buffalo visited the Wachovia

Center, as Carter netted two goals against the Sabres for the

second time this season. Scott Hartnell also scored twice in the

Flyers' 5-2 win.

Philadelphia has an NHL-best six 20-goal scorers, but Buffalo

gets much of its scoring from two players - Thomas Vanek and

Derek Roy. The two have combined for 59 goals, but they've only

totaled three in the team's last six games.

They've combined for one goal against the Flyers this season.

They'll have a hard time scoring on Philadelphia goaltender

Martin Biron, who only has a 4-3-0 record since Feb. 25 but has

posted a 1.84 goals-against average.

The former Sabre has a 1.67 GAA in the three wins against

Buffalo this season.

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