With just eight games left in the regular season, Buffalo has little margin for error as it seeks to secure its first playoff berth since 2007.
The Sabres’ last game was a great start.
On Saturday night, Buffalo looks to trim the Montreal Canadiens’ lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference at the Bell Centre, where the Sabres have won just once since 2006.
The Sabres (36-30-8) have dropped seven straight on the road, dating back to a 4-1 win over Toronto on Feb. 17, but are confident following Friday’s 5-3 home win over the Maple Leafs.
The return of goaltender Ryan Miller from a 13-game absence due to a sprained left ankle helped as Buffalo pulled within three points of idle Florida for the ninth spot in the East. Montreal (38-27-9) is eighth with 85 points.
“(Ryan) was sharp and solid,” said Paul Gaustad, who scored his 10th goal with 9:04 remaining after Toronto tallied three straight to pull within 4-3. “That’s was a credit to him coming back from an injury.”
Gaustad had two goals as Buffalo defeated visiting Montreal 5-1 in the Northeast Division rivals’ last matchup on March 4.
Miller was solid in his first action since a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers on Feb. 21, stopping 33 shots and earning his 30th win for the fourth consecutive season.
“A couple times out there (the ankle) ached a little bit,” Miller said. “It felt as good as I thought it was going to feel. Hopefully, it’s good tomorrow.”
Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff didn’t hesitate when asked if Miller would be in net Saturday.
“Miller will play tomorrow,” Ruff said. “I don’t think there’s any secret there.”
Miller has lost four straight starts in Montreal, but is 2-0-1 with a 2.23 goals-against average in three starts versus the Canadiens this season.
Jason Pominville looks to extend his point streak to six after recording two assists versus the Maple Leafs. Pominville, though, has just one assist in five games against Montreal this season.
Oft-injured Tim Connolly scored two goals Friday for Buffalo, and needs one more to set a new career high with 17. Selected fifth overall in the 1999 NHL draft, the center has been limited to 90 games since 2006-07 due to concussions, hip, back and rib injuries.
While Buffalo opens its three-game trip looking for two must-needed points, Montreal goes for its third straight victory following an 0-3-2 slide from March 12-21.
The Canadiens continue their five-game homestand following Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win over Tampa Bay. Captain Saku Koivu scored his team-leading fifth game-winner, but Montreal was forced into the extra session after giving up a 2-0 third-period advantage.
“Preferably, we would have kept the lead,” said Montreal coach Bob Gainey, 3-3-2 since replacing the fired Guy Carbonneau on March 9. “We created the lead and would have kept it, but I liked the way we played the game and we need the points.”
Facing Buffalo could be exactly what the Canadiens need to pad their shrinking lead in the East. Montreal is 7-1-0 in its last eight home games against the Sabres.
Buffalo’s last visit to Montreal ended with Alexei Kovalev scoring in overtime to give the Canadiens a 4-3 victory on Dec. 20. Kovalev has three goals and an assist in his last two games, and reached 20 goals for the 12th time in his career on Thursday.