If the Buffalo Sabres want to make the playoffs, they can't afford too many more sloppy efforts like they had in their last game.
The Sabres hope to bounce back from a costly defeat and resume their late postseason push Thursday night when they host the Montreal Canadiens, whom they've surprisingly dominated this season.
A three-game winning streak had Buffalo (16-18-6) thinking playoffs, but a 4-1 loss at Winnipeg on Tuesday damaged those hopes. The Sabres, 11th in the Eastern Conference, gave up three goals in the second period in falling to one of the teams they're battling for a postseason berth.
"Three wins in a row. ... We're really close to the playoffs again, and this was a huge game for us coming here and this is that much more disappointing tonight," defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said.
The Sabres will be opening a three-game homestand, and play six of their final eight at home. They also got leading scorer Thomas Vanek back after a six-game absence due to an upper-body injury, but he didn't record a point and was minus-4 for the game.
"It's a tough break at this time of the year. It's unfortunate," Vanek said of the loss.
Vanek, though, has five goals in the season series with Montreal.
A visit from the Canadiens may also be reason for optimism, given how the season series has gone.
Since losing 6-1 on Feb. 2 in the first matchup, Buffalo has taken three straight meetings by one goal. The Sabres won the latest one 2-1 on the road March 23 behind a stellar effort from Ryan Miller, who made 38 saves and stopped 15 of 16 shots in the third period.
Vanek had two second-period goals in that game and the Sabres won despite managing just 18 shots. They were also outshot in the previous matchup, 34-21 in a 3-2 overtime victory March 19.
The Canadiens (25-9-5) are also coming off a defeat, though they're much more secure in their position in the conference. Montreal, second in the East with an 11-point edge over third-place Washington and five points behind Pittsburgh, fell 3-2 to the red-hot Capitals on Tuesday.
Lars Eller scored two goals, opening the scoring in the first period and then cutting the deficit to one with 3:22 remaining, but Montreal couldn't complete the comeback.
"They got away with two points they probably shouldn't have tonight," said Eller, who ended an 11-game goal drought. "All I can say is we're going to be looking forward to the next game."
The Canadiens play six of their final nine away from home. Though Montreal is 12-4-2 on the road, it's dropped two of its last three there.
"Now you're nine games, 10 games away from the playoffs and the intensity picks up," right wing Brian Gionta said. "You've got teams that are fighting to get in, teams that are fighting for position."
Teammate Alex Galchenyuk recorded two assists Tuesday and has two goals and three assists during a four-game point streak.
Buffalo's Steve Ott has three goals and an assist in the four matchups with the Canadiens. Ott had a three-game goal streak snapped Tuesday.