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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final

Miller's stellar play puts Sabres in playoff race

Sunday, 03.04.2012 / 11:30 AM / The Hot List

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Ryan Miller is standing on his head to get the Buffalo Sabres back into the playoff race.

Ryan Miller
Goalie - BUF
RECORD: 22-17-5
GAA: 2.59 | SVP: 0.915
With his team desperate for points, Miller turned three goals into two wins on consecutive nights in Anaheim and San Jose last week, stopping 43 shots in a 2-0 win against the Ducks and 39 more the next night for a 1-0 victory against the Sharks.

The Sabres gave Miller a little more support on Saturday, blitzing Vancouver for three early goals, and the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner made 32 saves as Buffalo held off the desperate Canucks 5-3 to improve to 6-0-2 in their last eight games.

For the week, Miller won all three of his starts, two by shutout, while stopping 114 of 117 shots -- all on the road.

Five up -- Five other players who had a good week:

Teddy Purcell -- While Steven Stamkos and his League-leading 47 goals are getting a lot of attention in Tampa Bay, Purcell is quietly having a career year. Purcell scored the tying goal and set up Stamkos' OT winner on Saturday, giving him nine points in four games during the past seven days and 19 during a nine-game points streak.

Pekka Rinne -- All Nashville's No. 1 goaltender does is keep on winning. He allowed one goal in each of his two starts last week to win both, giving him a League-leading 39 victories. Rinne has won his last three starts and is 6-0-1 in his last seven games.

Eric Staal -- After a very slow start, Carolina's captain continues to pile up points. He had a goal and six assists in the Hurricanes' three games last week, giving him 20 points during an 11-game points streak that's one game short of the longest in the NHL this season.

Jaroslav Halak -- The Blues have the only pair of 20-game winners in goal this season, but lately, Halak has been earning more of the work. That's because he's on a roll -- he's won five in a row while allowing just eight goals. That includes a 3-0-0 week in which he surrendered just four goals.

Henrik Zetterberg -- With Pavel Datsyuk out following knee surgery, Detroit needs more production from Zetterberg, and lately he's been producing. Zetterberg had a goal and two assists on Friday and is 2-6-8 in his last three games.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Benoit Pouliot -- The offensive touch Pouliot showed while seeing bottom-six duty for Boston in the first half of the season has disappeared. He's gone eight games without a point and has just one point (a goal) while going minus-9 in 16 games since the All-Star break.

Viktor Stalberg -- Stalberg is another player whose scoring touch has vanished after a good start. He's pointless in his last seven games and has a goal and no assists in his last 12.

Mike Green
Defense - WSH
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 6
SOG: 33 | +/-: -1
Michael Grabner -- After a surprising 34-goal season as a rookie last year, Grabner has struggled to find the net for the New York Islanders. He's gone six games without a point, 10 without a goal and has gone from being plus-13 last season to minus-14.

Mike Green -- Green has played seven games for Washington since returning from a groin injury that blew a hole in his season, but his offensive game hasn't arrived yet. Green hasn't had a point in those seven games, a big reason the Capitals continue to struggle to score.

Lubomir Visnovsky -- The NHL's highest-scoring defenseman in 2010-11 won't come close to repeating this season. He's gone 11 games without a point and is just 5-17-22 in 53 games.

Injuries, news and notes: Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom, one of the NHL's sturdiest players, missed all three of the Wings' games this past week with an ankle injury. He will be evaluated on Monday.

Out -- Minnesota lost starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom with a groin injury early in Thursday night's game in Montreal. The Wild said he'll miss 2-4 weeks. Forwards Nick Palmieri and Cal Clutterbuck both sustained upper-body injuries on Friday. … Rangers captain Ryan Callahan missed New York's trip to Carolina and Tampa Bay with an injured foot; defenseman Michael Del Zotto sat out Friday after aggravating a hip injury. … Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang is dealing with concussion symptoms after a big hit by Dallas' Eric Nystrom on Wednesday. He sat out Saturday's game at Colorado. … Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk will miss 4-6 weeks after breaking his left foot while blocking a shot on Thursday. He's likely to need surgery. … Devils forward Alexei Ponikarovsky missed Friday's game with a leg injury; he had an MRI on Saturday. … Montreal's Aaron Palushaj and Scott Gomez missed Saturday's game with eye injuries. … Boston lost goaltender Tuukka Rask and forward Daniel Paille with undisclosed injuries in Saturday's loss to the Islanders; neither made the trip to New York for Sunday's meeting with the Rangers. The Bruins lost defenseman Andrew Ference with a lower-body injury on Thursday. … Florida's top scorer, Kris Versteeg, sat out his third straight game on Saturday with a lower-body injury. … Defenseman Kevin Klein missed all three of Nashville's games last week with an upper-body injury.

Returning -- Carolina goaltender Brian Boucher was able to dress Saturday; he's been out for three months with a groin injury. … Edmonton goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (groin) was in goal Friday for the first time since Feb. 19. … Phoenix forward Gilbert Brule was in the lineup Saturday after missing four games with a head injury.

Jonathan Toews
Center - CHI
GOALS: 29 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 57
SOG: 185 | +/-: 17
Still out -- Chicago captain Jonathan Toews hasn't played since Feb. 19 due to an upper-body injury and won't dress for the final two games of the Hawks' road trip. … Anaheim backup goaltender Dan Ellis has yet to recover from a groin injury and may not make it back before the end of the season. … Tampa Bay defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron will miss the rest of the season; he's been out with a back injury and may have to have surgery. … Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen (concussion) is skating again but not ready to play.

The week ahead -- To say it's a hectic week would be putting it mildly. Everyone plays at least three games, and 14 teams have four games on their schedule. In a scheduling fluke, the New York Islanders have three consecutive games against New Jersey in a seven-day span.

Games to watch:

Chicago at St. Louis (March 6) ­-- The Blues are back home after a grueling six-game trip to host their fiercest rivals, who are at the end of a three-game swing.

Tampa Bay at Washington (March 8; NHLN-US) -- It's desperation time for both teams; the Caps have been bobbing in and out of the last playoff spot in the East, while the Bolts have been playing catch-up after a slow start.

Detroit at Nashville (March 10) -- Expect a packed house at Bridgestone Arena as the Predators' most hated rival comes to Music City.

Boston at Pittsburgh (March 11; NBC/TSN) -- NBC's Game of the Week sends the Bruins to Pittsburgh for a matchup between two teams that could see each other again during the playoffs.

Los Angeles at Chicago (March 11; NBCSN/TSN2) -- The Kings end a very tough week on the road with a stop in Chicago; the Hawks have been blanked by Jonathan Quick in the last two meetings between the teams.

Tough week ahead:

Carolina Hurricanes -- After spending the last couple of weeks at home while playing six in a row at the RBC Center, the 'Canes hit the road this week with four games, three of them against Southeast Division rivals.

Los Angeles Kings -- The Kings hit the road for the Midwest this week, with stops in Nashville, Columbus, Detroit and Chicago.

Montreal Canadiens -- It's off to Western Canada this week for the Canadiens, who visit the two Alberta teams before ending their week in Vancouver.

Easy week ahead:

Nashville Predators -- Three Western Conference rivals -- Los Angeles, Dallas and Detroit -- come to Bridgestone Arena this week. The best news for the Preds is that the Wings visit Saturday after hosting the Kings the night before.

Pittsburgh Penguins -- The Penguins are one of the 14 teams that play four games this week, but the only one that has all four at home. Even better is that the last three visitors -- Toronto, Florida and Boston -- will be on the second half of back-to-backs when they come to Consol Energy Center.

Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks have all three games at home this week as they continue a seven-game homestand. Dallas, Winnipeg and Montreal come to Rogers Arena.

It's hard to walk into that locker room and look those guys in the eye when they've played -- clearly, that was our best game we've played in the series -- and I thought we deserved a better fate tonight.

— Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper on his team's 3-2 loss to the Canadiens in Game 3 on Sunday