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Canadiens vs Sabres: Game preview, start time, and TV schedule

Facing a key competitor in their battle for draft position, will the Habs edge the Sabres on the scoreboard or the draft board?

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Playing the Buffalo Sabres has meant many different things for the Montreal Canadiens in 2015-16.

When they demolished (at least on the scoreboard) their division rivals in October, it was par for the course. The Habs were a Stanley Cup contender, and the Sabres were not even 10 games removed from one of the worst seasons in the history of the NHL.

When they met again in early February, the Canadiens' fortunes had reversed entirely. The Habs came in, losers of three straight, and lost again, appearing to cement their early demise.

But eight days later, things looked different. The Habs won all three of their intervening contests, and with a fourth straight win in Buffalo could propel themselves back into some kind of a lucid conversation about the playoffs. Of course, they squandered the opportunity, and now find themselves whiling away the hours until the horn sounds on the regular season's final game.

With each team's destiny clear, tonight's game takes another different meaning. It's probably too much to ask for Montreal to approximate the cumulative incompetence of Western Canada's professional hockey teams, but a regulation loss would put the Habs back in striking distance of some Eastern rivals when it comes to draft position.

With their first overall pick chances at under five percent, the Tricolore have their work cut out for them.

How to Watch

Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English)
: Sportsnet East, SN360
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Sabres
31-30-6 Record 27-32-9
4-4-2 L10 Record 4-4-2
52.3 Score-Adjusted Corsi % 46.4
183 Goals For 162
188 Goals Against 185
0.96 5v5 Goal Ratio 0.77
17.1 PP% 19.4
84.2 PK% 81.6

Know Your Enemy

While the Canadiens' season has been an unmitigated disappointment, the Sabres are probably where they expected to be, more or less. After last year's outright sabotage of their own season, the Sabres made a turn toward competitiveness, acquiring some capable NHLers and hiring a well-thought-of head coach. A roster can only turn over so fast, however, so for another season, the Sabres find themselves languishing near the bottom of the Atlantic Division.

To make matters worse, two of their most skilled forwards will be unavailable this evening, as Tyler Ennis and Ryan O'Reilly are both on Injured Reserve. One could be forgiven for assuming that O'Reilly's absence is due to the onset of an inevitable mental breakdown after what Alex Galchenyuk did to him, though the official report specifies that the injury is to his lower body.

With Ennis and O'Reilly down, and Jamie McGinn shipped out at the trade deadline, the team will rely even more heavily on Evander Kane and Jack Eichel to provide the offence. With Cody Franson out on defence, Carlo Colaiacovo will also get a shot at maintaining his place in the lineup.

The Sabres are undeniably a beatable team. After two consecutive failed attempts, we'll find out tonight if Montreal can make good on that statement.

Last Time Out

For a team absolutely snakebitten for the past three months, seeing the Habs break out for four goals against the Sabres in mid-February was encouraging. Unfortunately, they matched their season-high goals-against figure of six in the same game.

The night began encouragingly enough, as Sven Andrighetto one-timed the game's opening goal past Chad Johnson off the rush. But with some ill-timed errors, the Habs would give up the next four.

First, David Legwand walked into the Montreal zone and tied things up. Then, O'Reilly intercepted an Andrei Markov zone clearance, leading to Kane's go-ahead goal. To add insult to injury, noted sniper and former Hab Josh Gorges then pounced on his own rebound to give his team a two-goal advantage.

Michel Therrien sought to rally his troops with a change of goaltender, but his tactic was ineffective. Marcus Foligno made the score 4-1 before Mike Condon had been in the game for even a minute.

To their credit, the Habs didn't give up from there. The Alex Galchenyuk off-wing one-timer we've come to love made the score 4-2, and when Andrighetto caught Johnson wandering in no man's land, the Canadiens were within one.

Foligno put his team back out in front by two, fighting off Galchenyuk to win a penalty shot before successfully beating Condon. Not to be denied, Galchenyuk would bring his team right back, going back to the well and drilling another one-timer past the Sabres' keeper.

Sadly, that was as close as Montreal would get, starting a string of losses to bad teams that essentially killed whatever slim playoff hopes remained when the puck dropped that night.

With the stakes much lower tonight, this game seems poised to go in one of two directions. If the Habs make some or all of the same mistakes that have plagued their last two clashes with Buffalo, they'll almost certainly find themselves two points closer to the first overall pick. On the other hand, if their red-hot first line can keep clicking, or one of their new acquisitions can chip in the way Phillip Danault did on Tuesday night, they may be in line for an entertaining victory.

All of this puts the Canadiens and their fans in a position they haven't been in since around the first time they played the Sabres this season. With position to be gained in the standings by losing or dignity to be maintained by winning, it will be hard to go wrong for Montreal tonight.