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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Sunday, March 23rd (All times Eastern)

Buffalo Sabres (20-42-8) at Vancouver Canucks (32-20-10), 8 p.m.

(SportsNetwork.com) - With time running out in the regular season, the Vancouver Canucks will try to make up ground in the Western Conference playoff race on Sunday when they host the lowly Buffalo Sabres at Rogers Arena.

Sitting five points out of a playoff spot with only 10 games left on their schedule, the Canucks are in danger of missing the postseason in their first campaign under head coach John Tortorella.

Although Vancouver didn't make it out of the first round in each of the last two springs, the club hasn't missed the playoffs since 2008.

With 74 points, Vancouver is five behind Phoenix for the second wild card spot in the West. The Coyotes hold a game in hand over the Canucks, but with Phoenix idle on Sunday, Tortorella's club has a chance to cut the deficit to three points,

The Canucks expect to get at least one key forward back on Sunday, as Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin returned to practice on Friday and could help with Vancouver's postseason push. Sedin has missed the last nine games with an injured left hamstring, while Kesler has sat out the last four with a sprained right knee. Sedin expects to play tonight, while Kesler will be a game-time decision.

"Danny is in. Not sure on (Kessler). We will make a decision tomorrow," Tortorella said after practice Saturday.

Fellow forward Alexandre Burrows, however, expects to miss Sunday's tilt after injuring his left hand in Vancouver's recent win over the Nashville Predators.

Vancouver has won two of its last three games and is coming off Wednesday's 2-0 victory over visiting Nashville. Another win Sunday against the basement- dwelling Sabres would give the Canucks consecutive victories for the first time since beating Calgary and Edmonton from Jan. 18-21.

The Canucks used a strong performance from rookie goaltender Eddie Lack to down the Predators. Lack made 30 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, while Alexander Edler and Nicklas Jensen scored in the third period for Vancouver.

Jensen snapped a scoreless tie 6:06 into the third stanza. He scored from the top of the right circle after Henrik Sedin lost the puck in the slot.

"It's being confident and not panicking and just trying to put it on net," Jensen said of his shot, which went just under the crossbar. "The fact the coach gives me that opportunity is really good, but at the same time you have to show you want to be in those situations too."

Vancouver is 17-11-6 as the host this season and is wrapping a brief two-game homestand on Sunday.

Buffalo is last in the NHL with just 48 points this season, but the Sabres were able to snap a seven-game losing streak in their last trip to the ice, picking up a 3-1 win in Edmonton.

Cory Conacher had two goals on deflections and picked up an assist to back Buffalo neophyte Matt Hackett in Thursday's win over the Oilers. Hackett, the fifth goaltender to start for Buffalo this season, made 35 saves and helped the Sabres kill off 5-of-6 Edmonton power plays.

"I think we deserved that one," said Conacher. "We kept it pretty simple for the most part. We ran into a bit of penalty trouble, but our PK came up huge."

Hackett, who was recently called up from Rochester of the American Hockey League, made his debut with the club that acquired from Minnesota last April.

With Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth still out with lower-body injuries, 22- year-old rookie Nathan Lieuwen will make his second career start on Sunday. Hackett will serve as the backup.

Buffalo is 8-22-3 on the road this season and is playing the third test of a five-game swing on Sunday. The Sabres will continue the trek Tuesday in Montreal before completing the trip Thursday against Nashville.

The Sabres have won four of the last six meetings with Vancouver, but the Canucks recorded a 3-0 win in Buffalo on Oct. 17.

Sunday's game marks Buffalo's first road game against the Canucks since posting a 5-3 win on March 3, 2012. Before that victory two years ago, the Sabres had been winless in their previous six trips to B.C., going 0-5-0 with a tie.

03/23 11:00:47 ET