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GAME: Buffalo Sabres (37-33-7-4) at Montreal Canadiens (40-30-7-4).

TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.

If the Montreal Canadiens aren't careful, they may be the ones heading to Tampa Bay next week.

The Canadiens will look to end a five-game losing streak and clinch seventh place in the Eastern Conference when they conclude their regular season against the visiting Buffalo Sabres.

The Canadiens lead the eighth-place New York Islanders by one point with one game remaining. If Montreal loses, and New York beats Philadelphia on Sunday, the Canadiens will have to open the playoffs on the road against top-seeded Tampa Bay.

The Canadiens are coming off a 2-0 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday, and have been outscored 16-4 during their 0-4-0-1 slide.

"We got the effort tonight and we haven't had that in a while," Montreal coach Claude Julien said. "The negative thing is we lost, but it's encouraging to see the effort.

"We had the solution tonight, which was the effort," he added. "Now we just need the result, which is to win."

Leading scorer Mike Ribeiro has just two assists in his last seven games, while Richard Zednik, who has a team-high 25 goals, has just one assist in his last eight contests.

Despite going 9-3-1-3 since the beginning of March, the Sabres were officially eliminated from playoff contention on Friday when the Islanders beat Carolina 6-4.

Perhaps feeling a letdown upon learning the result of the Islanders game, the Sabres went out and mustered just 17 shots on Ed Belfour as visiting Toronto cruised to a 2-0 win.

"There's no good feeling about not making the playoffs, but it's one heck of a better feeling this year than last year," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.

Buffalo's 37 wins are 10 more than last season and the Sabres' highest total since winning 46 in 2000-01. However, the Sabres have now missed the playoffs a franchise-record three straight years.

STANDINGS: Sabres - 85 points, 5th place, 17 PB, Northeast Division. Canadiens - 91 points, 4th place, 11 PB, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Sabres - Miroslav Satan, 29 goals; Daniel Briere and Jochen Hecht, 36 assists; Briere, 63 points; Andrew Peters, 136 PIM. Canadiens - Zednik, 25 goals; Ribeiro, 43 assists and 63 points; Darren Langdon, 135 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through April 1): Sabres - Power play: 16.1 percent (58 for 361), 16th (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.8 percent (289 for 341), 11th. Canadiens - Power play: 17.1 percent (54 for 316), 10th. Penalty killing: 82.4 percent (257 for 312), 22nd.

GOALTENDERS: Sabres - Martin Biron (26-18-5, 2 SO, 2.52 GAA); Mika Noronen (11-16-2, 2, 2.45). Canadiens - Jose Theodore (32-28-5, 6, 2.26); Mathieu Garon (8-6-2, 0, 2.27).

SEASON SERIES: Sabres, 3-1.

LAST MEETING: March 24; Sabres, 2-1. At Buffalo, N.Y., the Sabres got second-period goals from J.P. Dumont and Adam Mair, and Biron finished with 24 saves. Michael Ryder scored for the Canadiens.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sabres - 16-20-3-1 on the road; Canadiens - 22-13-4-1 at home.

Associated Press
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