The Buffalo Sabres' last meeting with the Montreal Canadiens left coach Lindy Ruff feeling "embarrassed."
His team's play - and position in the Eastern Conference playoff race - since then has likely changed that dramatically.
The Sabres look to continue their impressive turnaround and close the gap on a playoff position Monday night when they face the Canadiens at First Niagara Center.
Buffalo (32-29-8) fell 4-3 in a shootout to Montreal (27-32-10) at home Feb. 17, and Ruff said he felt "disappointed" and "embarrassed" after his team dropped into a tie for last place in the East.
A lot has changed since.
The Sabres are 8-2-1 since that visit from the Canadiens, climbing into a tie for ninth with Winnipeg, four points behind Washington for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Buffalo's surge continued with Saturday's 4-3 shootout win at Ottawa, as Tyler Ennis netted the decisive goal in the tiebreaker after scoring in regulation. The Sabres finished with 41 shots on goal through overtime, a major improvement from the 20 they registered in Thursday's 3-1 loss at Boston.
"It was good to see us get pucks to the net, and we got a couple of nice bounces and that comes from just putting the puck in good areas," said Ryan Miller, who had 33 saves against the Senators. "They all count and they were a little bit dirtier. We needed it."
Miller, who will likely be in net, has been perhaps the biggest reason for the Sabres' turnaround, going 8-1-1 with a 1.76 goals-against average. However, he struggled in the latest meeting with Montreal, making 16 saves before getting beat on both shootout attempts. He had won his previous four starts against the Northeast Division rival behind a 0.75 GAA and one shutout.
Jason Pominville has two goals and one assist in the last three games and converted in the shootout Saturday. The Buffalo captain was held without a point by Montreal last month after getting two goals and two assists in the previous four home matchups.
The Canadiens are at the bottom of the East, but enter this meeting with momentum of their own. They followed a 5-3 win at Edmonton on Thursday with a 4-1 victory at Vancouver two days later.
"It was awesome," defenseman Andrei Markov said. "We just beat one of the strongest teams in the league."
Markov's presence provided the Canadiens with a lift after the veteran defenseman missed 133 games over two seasons due to two operations on his right knee.
Goaltender Carey Price feels Markov's return may continue paying dividends.
"He's a first-class player and he moves the puck so well," Price said. "When we're breaking the puck out, he just has the confidence with it, and it makes a big difference. He's a big boost for us and he's pretty irreplaceable."
Price will likely get the chance to improve upon his own strong effort, making 32 saves Saturday after enduring a 2-7-1 stretch with a 3.27 GAA. That includes 27 saves with two more in the shootout against the Sabres last month.
He's had success in Buffalo, going 4-0-2 with a 1.77 GAA in his last six games.
- Montreal Canadiens
- Lindy Ruff