Six weeks removed from being at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres enter a season-ending two-game road trip with a chance to make the playoffs.
A stirring comeback in its last game allowed Buffalo to enter Thursday night's matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers tied for the East's eighth and final playoff spot.
However, the Sabres (39-31-10) also could be eliminated from the postseason hunt Thursday if they lose in regulation and Washington beats Florida.
Though both teams have 88 points and two games remaining, the Capitals own the tiebreaker because they have 36 non-shootout wins to Buffalo's 32. Both close the regular season Saturday, when the Sabres play at Boston while Washington visits the New York Rangers.
"All the work we put in throughout the season and towards the end of the season when everyone counted us out, we just have to keep working," center Derek Roy said.
Buffalo is tied for eighth place thanks to a 6-5 overtime victory over Toronto on Tuesday. The Sabres trailed 3-0 after the first period and 5-3 in the third, only to score twice in the final 5:03 of regulation before Roy's power-play goal in overtime.
"This means a lot. It means we didn't roll over and die," said Roy, who scored twice after having one goal in 16 games during March.
The Sabres were tied for the fewest points in the East as recently as Feb. 18, but then went on a stunning 14-2-3 run to jump back into the playoff hunt. Their hopes grew dim with back-to-back losses over the weekend and the big deficit Tuesday, but they rallied for their first victory after trailing by three goals in more than two years.
"It's one win, but it gives us some momentum," said defenseman Jordan Leopold, who scored the tying goal with 1:53 left.
The Flyers (46-25-9) ousted the Sabres in the first round of last year's playoffs and could end up keeping them out of the upcoming postseason altogether by sweeping this season series. Philadelphia has won all three meetings behind Claude Giroux's 10 points.
As Buffalo goes for the No. 8 seed, the Flyers seek the No. 4 spot. Those hopes will be gone if the fourth-place Penguins beat the Rangers on Thursday, but if they don't, Philadelphia could be visiting Pittsburgh on Saturday with home ice at stake for those rivals' likely first-round series.
The Flyers fell three points behind the Penguins with a 5-3 home loss to the Rangers on Tuesday. They've lost three consecutive home games to match a season high, falling behind by a combined 9-0 score after the first period.
They've trailed at least 2-0 in seven of 10 overall.
"I don't know what we've got to do," said Giroux, who has six points in his last two games. "Drink one more cup of coffee? I don't know. We've got to find a way to get a better start."
The Flyers also need Ilya Bryzgalov to get on track. He returned Tuesday after missing three games with a chip fracture in his right foot but gave up five goals on 24 shots.
"I was rusty and after missing a couple games and practices, I have to recreate the game motions again," Bryzgalov said.
He got hurt in warmups of a 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay on March 26, a game in which he allowed four goals on 14 shots. Bryzgalov hadn't yielded more than two goals in any of his previous 11 games, going 9-1-1 with a 1.06 goals-against average.
Counterpart Ryan Miller has surrendered 14 goals in Buffalo's past three games and has a 7.12 GAA in three matchups with the Flyers this season.
Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell has a goal in all three meetings and scored his team-leading 37th on Tuesday. Wayne Simmonds has six goals in the past five games and had two in the last meeting with Buffalo, a 7-2 home victory Feb. 16.
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