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The Buffalo Sabres have tightened up their defense dramatically in the last three games. They're hoping the better play in their own end finally results in a winning streak.
After posting their second shutout in three contests, the Sabres try for their first back-to-back wins in nearly three weeks when they take on the Northeast Division rival Montreal Canadiens at HSBC Arena on Friday.
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Buffalo (27-20-5) is battling for its third straight playoff appearance and sits seventh in the Eastern Conference with 59 points, just five behind fourth-place Montreal (29-16-6). The Sabres, though, may have trouble moving up if they can't put together a winning streak.
Since taking three straight Jan. 15-19, Buffalo has alternated losses and wins in its last six games.
The Sabres, though, have been much more consistent defensively in their last three games, with shutouts of Phoenix and Toronto sandwiched around a 3-2 loss to Anaheim. Buffalo gave up 12 goals in the three games prior.
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The Sabres are coming off a 5-0 victory over Toronto on Wednesday, as Ryan Miller recorded his fifth shutout and Thomas Vanek notched his fifth career three-goal game in Buffalo's season-high fourth straight home victory. The Sabres gave up a season-low 16 shots on goal.
"I think that we were traveling in front, trying to block a lot of shots," Miller, who beat Phoenix 2-0 on Saturday with 28 saves, told the team's official Web site. "It's just managing hockey games, being smart. It's the kind of game we're going to have to play to be a playoff team."
Miller hasn't allowed a goal since Calgary's Michael Cammalleri scored at 13:08 of the final period of a 5-2 Sabres loss Jan. 28 - a span of 126 minutes, 52 seconds.
If Miller starts Friday, he could exceed his career-best shutout streak of 149:12 set over four games from Oct. 30-Nov. 7. However, he's been less than dominant versus the Canadiens recently, going 1-2-2 with a 3.47 goals-against average in his last five starts against them.
Buffalo has been outscored 21-12 in going 1-3-2 in its last six matchups with Montreal. The lone victory in that span was 2-1 in a shootout at HSBC Arena on Oct. 10. The Canadiens won the next two meetings at home, the most recent a 4-3 victory Dec. 20.
Montreal is 18-1-0 this season when scoring at least four goals, and is coming off a 4-2 win over visiting Pittsburgh on Tuesday, its second in three contests following a season-high four-game losing streak.
"We needed it a lot," said Carey Price, who finished with 23 saves. "We need every game a lot from here on out, so every game we come into it's going to be the same thing."
Roman Hamrlik had a goal and an assist for the Canadiens, who played their first game of 2008-09 without Robert Lang. The veteran center, tied with Andrei Kostitsyn for a team-leading 18 goals, is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery Sunday night to repair a torn Achilles' tendon.
Forward Guillaume Latendresse suffered an upper-body injury Sunday against Boston and is day-to-day.
While the Canadiens will try to overcome the Sabres' strong defensive play, they'll also look to shut down Buffalo's hottest offensive players. Center Tim Connolly has eight goals in the last eight games, while Vanek - leading the Sabres with 32 goals and 52 points - has five goals and eight assists in his previous eight.
Buffalo got a boost from the return of veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen on Wednesday night after he missed the previous six games with a fractured jaw.