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Canadiens can clinch playoff berth against Sabres

by Arpon Basu

CANADIENS (25-9-5) at SABRES (16-18-6)


Last 10: Montreal 6-4-0; Buffalo 5-3-2

Season series: This is the fifth of five meetings. The Buffalo Sabres have won three of the first four matchups, two of them after regulation.

Big story: The Sabres remain on the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoff chase. For all intents and purposes, they simply can’t lose the rest of the season if they want to have any chance of playing into May. The Montreal Canadiens, on the other hand, could clinch a playoff spot with a win following the New Jersey Devils’ 5-4 loss to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: Montreal has been nearly unbeatable thins season – except when it plays games within its own division. The Canadiens enter this game with a 7-5-3 record against the Northeast Division and an 18-4-2 mark against the rest of the conference. The Sabres have had the most success with three wins in four games, but Canadiens coach Michel Therrien feels his club can build on their last meeting, one where Montreal outshot Buffalo 39-18 but lost 2-1 in a game which Ryan Miller shined.

“They play good hockey against us,” Therrien said. “But I think the last time against them we played as excellent game, it was just Ryan Miller was outstanding. It happens in the NHL where you face a goaltender who stops everything. But I liked our intensity and I want to make sure we play the same type of game.”

Therrien will give Peter Budaj the start one day after he signed a new two-year, $2.8 million contract extension with the Canadiens. Budaj, 6-1-1, has won five straight starts, allowing more than two goals just once in that span.

Sabres: While the Sabres are mathematically still alive, any realistic chance of them making a last gasp push toward the playoffs probably died Tuesday night when they lost 4-1 to the Winnipeg Jets, snapping a three-game winning streak that had rekindled some degree of hope in Buffalo. The Sabres do finish the season with six of eight games at home starting with this one against Montreal, but their final five opponents are the Bruins, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Jets and New York Islanders, all teams ahead of them in the standings. Running the table could prove daunting.

Thomas Vanek returned from a five-game absence with a lower body injury in Winnipeg, playing on a line with Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis that combined for six shots on goal and – most importantly – a minus-12 rating.

The Sabres were off Wednesday, so it is unclear who interim coach Ron Rolston will go with in goal.

Who's hot: For the Canadiens, rookie Alex Galchenyuk has a four-game points streak, with two goals and three assists over that span to run his season total to 20 points. Michael Ryder, who will be playing opposite Galchenyuk on a line with Lars Eller, has three goals and an assists in his past three games. … For the Sabres, Steve Ott had a three-game goal streak snapped Tuesday in Winnipeg and Kevin Porter has three goals and an assists in his past four games. Miller has a .936 save percentage in his past five starts.

Injury report: The Canadiens are missing defensemen Alexei Emelin (knee) and Raphael Diaz (concussion) and forward Colby Armstrong (knee). …The Sabres are without forward Ville Leino (upper body) and defenseman Alexander Sulzer (knee).

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