The Washington Capitals, through all of their ups and downs this season, find themselves near a familiar spot in the NHL standings: near the top. With a win over the Buffalo Sabres Saturday and some help, they could be on top.
In a potential playoff preview, the Caps will battle the Sabres with major standings implications at stake.
With a win, Washington will supplant the Philadelphia Flyers as the best team in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, if the Caps win and the Tampa Bay Lightning lose in regulation to the Minnesota Wild, they will clinch their fourth consecutive Southeast Division crown and will guarantee themselves one of the top three seeds in the playoffs.
If the playoffs started Saturday, the Caps and Sabres would meet in the quarterfinals. Washington has won two of three against Buffalo this season. The Caps will be shorthanded Saturday as John Erskine will not play after suffering an undisclosed injury Thursday in a 4-3 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Recent call-up Sean Collins will take Erskine's place on an already-depleted defensive corps that is without Mike Green, Tom Poti and Dennis Wideman.
The Sabres haven't escaped injury, either. Goaltender Ryan Miller is out with an upper body injury and did not make the trip to Washington. In his place, Jhonas Enroth will start. Buffalo is also without Jordan Leopold, Derek Roy, Patrick Kaleta, Mike Grier and Jochen Hecht.