The Buffalo Sabres are starting to heat up again just as the NHL is about to shut down briefly.
The league-leading Sabres look for their third win in a row as they meet the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Saturday in the Northeast Division rivals’ final game before the All-Star break.
The Sabres (33-11-4) had lost three games in a five-day span before defeating Boston 6-3 on Wednesday. They followed up that solid effort with a 4-3 shootout win over Northwest Division-leading Vancouver on Friday. Chris Drury’s goal with 39.1 seconds to play in regulation sent the game into overtime, and Ales Kotalik scored the decisive shootout goal in the fourth round.
Ryan Miller, one of three Sabres voted to start for the Eastern Conference in Wednesday’s All-Star game in Dallas, finished with 25 saves. Fellow All-Stars Daniel Briere and Brian Campbell each had an assist for Buffalo, which moved past Nashville to become league’s top team.
The Sabres and Predators each have 33 wins in 48 games, but Buffalo has 70 points—one more than Nashville.
“Desperation was a big factor,” said Briere, who has failed to record a point in his last three games against Montreal. “We wanted to know we’re out of our funk. You don’t want to win one game and then go back on a losing streak.”
Buffalo rallied from two one-goal deficits and killed off a Vancouver power play in overtime en route to its 16th home win, tying New Jersey for the most in the East. The Sabres’ 17 road wins lead the league.
The Canadiens got a lift in their last game from a pair of All-Stars. Cristobal Huet tied a season high with 44 saves, and Sheldon Souray had a goal and assist in Montreal’s 4-1 win over Atlanta on Thursday.
“Our team showed a lot of smarts,” Huet said in his first game after being singled out by coach Guy Carbonneau for letting in two soft goals in a 4-0 loss to Vancouver on Tuesday. “In the first, I had to make a couple of difficult saves in the slot, but after that I think we eliminated the good scoring chances.”
Huet will be a backup to Miller and New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur for the East. Though he has 18 wins to match his total from last season, Huet has yet to beat the Sabres on home ice while with Montreal. The French native is 0-1-2 with a 2.62 goals-against average in three starts at the Bell Centre versus Buffalo. Overall this season, he’s 2-1-2 with a 2.30 GAA against the Sabres.
Souray leads all defensemen in scoring with 16 goals—13 coming on the power play—and 40 points. His even-strength goal with 1 second to play in overtime lifted the Canadiens to a 2-1 road win over the Sabres on Nov. 24.
The midseason break cannot come soon enough for the Canadiens (26-17-5), who have won only five of 14 games since Dec. 23 to tighten up the race behind Buffalo in the Northeast Division. With 57 points, Montreal is in second place one point ahead of Ottawa, six in front of Toronto and nine more than last-place Boston.
“When you get a week off, it’s always nicer and easier to relax when you’re not carrying (a slump) on your shoulders,” Carbonneau said.