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Critical contest for Sabres in Montreal

By Matt Beardmore

Stats Writer

Buffalo (36-30-8) at Montreal (38-27-9), 7:00 p.m. EDT

MONTREAL (AP) -- 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.

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