Although they've been among the league's hottest teams and have moved into playoff contention, the Buffalo Sabres still have very little margin for error.
Consecutive losses at this late juncture could prove disastrous and that's a fate they'll try to avoid Saturday night when they visit the listless Toronto Maple Leafs in the opener of a home-and-home series.
With a chance to tie idle Ottawa for seventh place in the Eastern Conference, Buffalo (38-30-10) instead had its five-game winning streak snapped Friday with a 5-3 loss to visiting Pittsburgh. That defeat - the Sabres' first in regulation in 10 games - left them tied with Washington for eighth place, each with four games remaining and with the Capitals holding the tiebreaker.
"We won't beat this thing to death,' defenseman Jordan Leopold said. "There's a simple formula, we just move forward. We know we can play better.'
Ryan Miller's stellar goaltending had been the biggest key lately for Buffalo, but he allowed four goals Friday after yielding six total during the five consecutive wins. He also gave up more than three for only the second time in his last 20 starts.
Coach Lindy Ruff could stick with his No. 1 netminder against Toronto (33-36-9), which has lost a franchise-record 11 straight at home. Backup Jhonas Enroth is 0-7-2 in his last nine starts since beating Washington on Nov. 26.
Tyler Ennis scored Friday for Buffalo, giving him six goals and nine assists in his last 10 games.
This is the Sabres' NHL-high 21st and final set of games on consecutive nights. They are 13-8-0 in the first game, and 7-8-5 when playing for a second straight night.
Already missing Christian Ehrhoff due to a left knee injury, the Sabres lost fellow defenseman Mike Weber, who was hurt after being checked from behind by Matt Cooke in the second period Friday.
This season can't end soon enough for the Maple Leafs (33-36-9), who were among the top eight teams in the conference as recently as Feb. 23 but are now assured of missing the playoffs for a seventh consecutive year.
Toronto, which hasn't won at home since Feb. 6, put up little resistance in Thursday's 7-1 loss to Philadelphia. The Leafs failed to register a shot until almost 14 minutes into the first period and had just 17 shots on goal in the game.
"It doesn't get much more embarrassing than that,' defenseman Cody Franson said. "It's one of those situations right now where it seems like no matter what we try to do it's just not working. We're having a tough time getting through it right now.'
Injuries have played a role in Toronto's woes. The latest to go down was goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who took a shot off his left knee in warmups Thursday and had to be helped to the dressing room.
Emergency call-up Jussi Rynnas was forced into his first NHL start because of James Reimer's upper-body injury.
The Sabres are 2-2-0 against the Maple Leafs this season, losing both games in Toronto. Buffalo has dropped four straight at Air Canada Centre.
The Associated Press News Service
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