The Montreal Canadiens made progress in the Eastern Conference playoff race behind a renewed scoring punch, but that has cooled off over back-to-back defeats.
The Canadiens’ six-game win streak - their longest in four seasons - moved them from a tie for eighth place in the East on March 4 to sixth 12 days later. Montreal (36-30-7) scored 22 goals during that run, but Brian Gionta(notes) has the team’s only two goals over the past two games.
Both of those came in a 3-2 shootout loss in Toronto on Saturday, two nights before a 2-0 defeat to Ottawa.
“We can’t play like that,” defenseman Andrei Markov(notes) told the Canadiens’ official Web site. “We really didn’t play our game the way we can, especially in the first period. We know we have to be better, and we were forcing things a little more tonight. We all know how big this game was and what’s still coming for us.”
What’s coming is potentially two matchups against Miller over the final 11 games. One of his seven shutouts this season came against the Canadiens - 1-0 in the teams’ previous matchup Jan. 3 at the Bell Centre.
He is 6-0-2 with a 2.06 goals-against average against Montreal since the beginning of last season, and he’s led Buffalo (39-22-10) to three straight wins over its division rival.
Miller has steadied himself since getting pulled less than six minutes into a 4-3 loss in Atlanta on March 16. The U.S. Olympic hero allowed six goals as the Sabres swept a three-game road trip, and two of those goals came with Buffalo comfortably ahead in the third period of Sunday’s 5-3 win in Carolina.
The Sabres scored all of their goals in the first 32 minutes of that victory and got off to strong starts in each game of the trip. They scored the game’s first two goals the previous evening in a 3-1 win over Florida and had three in the first period of a 6-2 win at Tampa Bay on Thursday night.
Jochen Hecht(notes) and Jason Pominville(notes) led the Sabres with three goals apiece during that road trip. Hecht, Pominville and Derek Roy(notes) also have a team-best four points against the Canadiens this season.
Montreal, 3-0-1 in its last four road games, could get a boost down the stretch with leading goal scorer Michael Cammalleri(notes) and defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron(notes) expected to return soon from knee injuries. Cammalleri hasn’t played since Jan. 30, and Bergeron has been out since Feb. 4.
The Canadiens and Sabres play again April 3 in Montreal.