|ATL||0||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||5|
|BUF||0||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||4|
Following a dismal start and a lengthy losing streak, the Atlanta Thrashers have finally put together back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres, however, have been even better in their last two games.
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Miller will carry a seven-period shutout streak into Friday's home matchup with the Thrashers, as Buffalo looks to avenge one of its four losses.
The Sabres (8-2-2) are the only team that had allowed fewer than two goals per game this season before their defense floundered last week in consecutive 5-2 home losses to Ottawa and Tampa Bay.
They've responded emphatically, as Miller has stopped all 53 shots he's faced in victories over the Capitals and Devils, posting back-to-back shutouts for the first time in his career. After a 5-0 victory over Washington on Saturday, Buffalo won 2-0 at New Jersey on Monday as Miller made 24 saves.
It's been 145 minutes since Miller last gave up a goal, stretching back to the 15-minute mark of the second period in the loss to Lightning. He's 7-1-1 with a league-leading 1.62 goals-against average this season.
"Most of the time he is the best player on the ice, pretty much every game," Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta said of Miller, who's 6-2-2 with a 2.31 GAA in his career against Atlanta. "He comes to play every night and gives us a chance to win."
Buffalo has been doing plenty of winning this season, thanks in part to a league-high 11 goals from Thomas Vanek, one of the league's best penalty-killing units and a renewed focus after missing the playoffs last season.
But the Sabres couldn't win at Atlanta on Oct. 18, coming back from a 2-0 deficit before falling 3-2 in a shootout. Backup goalie Patrick Lalime made 35 saves for Buffalo in that game.
That was one of only two wins for the Thrashers (4-7-2) in their first 11 games, and they had lost six straight before Sunday's 5-4 win over Florida.
They followed that with a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders on Wednesday, erasing a two-goal deficit with three third-period tallies to move out of the Eastern Conference cellar. First-year coach John Anderson, upset with the team's lackluster play through 40 minutes, gave a spirited speech during second intermission, and his team responded.
"He was very upset with the way we were working, and if we keep playing like that, we weren't going to win," Atlanta forward Slava Kozlov said. "(Anderson) has a lot of patience, but once in a while, he will get upset like that."
The Thrashers - 0-4-2 on the road this season - will try to carry that momentum over against Buffalo, and they'll do so with renewed confidence offensively.
They totaled just three goals during the final three games of their losing streak, but they now have nine goals in the last two contests. Three of them have come from Kozlov, who has at least a goal in four straight games.
Atlanta has played the last three games without starting goalie Kari Lehtonen, who's been dealing with a stiff back and the flu, but he's expected to return on Friday after going 2-5-2 with a 3.44 GAA in his first nine appearances.
Neither Thrashers goalie could last for three periods at Buffalo last season. Lehtonen was yanked from a 6-0 loss on Oct. 11, 2007, then he replaced Johan Hedberg in the Sabres' 10-1 win on Jan. 18.
Buffalo could get an offensive boost Friday, as veteran center Jochen Hecht is ready to play for the first time since Oct. 13 following finger surgery. Atlanta, meanwhile, is expected to be missing defenseman Mathieu Schneider (hip flexor) for the second straight game.
|Apr 01 '09||BUF 2 at ATL 3 - OT||I. Kovalchuk|
|Mar 14 '09||ATL 4 at BUF 3 - SO||B. Sterling|
|Nov 07 '08||ATL 5 at BUF 4 - OT||J. Williams|
|Oct 18 '08||BUF 2 at ATL 3 - SO||V. Kozlov|