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Canadiens try to build off key win as they play Sabres

by Brian Hunter
SABRES (43-24-10) at CANADIENS (38-32-8)

Last 10: Buffalo 7-3-0; Montreal 5-3-2

Season series: Sixth and final meeting of the regular season between these Northeast Division rivals. Brian Gionta led Montreal to a 2-1 overtime win in its season opener in Buffalo on Oct. 3, but the Sabres have taken the previous four matchups with the Canadiens -- most recently, a 3-2 shootout win on March 24 keyed by goals from Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek.

Big story: The Northeast Division title could be within Buffalo's grasp on Saturday. If the Senators lose in regulation to the Islanders in the afternoon, the Sabres would be in position to clinch with a victory over the Canadiens.

Montreal will be looking to strengthen its hold on the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference after a key win Friday over Philadelphia, another one of the teams jockeying for position in the lower half of the top eight.

Team Scope:

Sabres: Ryan Miller's dominance over Toronto finally came to an end Thursday -- he stopped 30 shots and played another solid game, but low-scoring defenseman Garnet Exelby got a puck past him in the second period and fellow blueliner Luke Schenn netted the go-ahead goal in the third of a 4-2 loss. Miller has earned five of his 39 wins this season against the Maple Leafs and had a .953 save percentage in six games against them.

"It looked like from the start of the game we weren't going to have the energy," coach Lindy Ruff said. "We were trying to get by."

Canadiens: A stretch of five losses in six games relegated Montreal to fighting for its playoff life, but the Canadiens seemingly took a big step forward with a 1-0 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia. Tomas Plekanec scored the game's only goal and Jaroslav Halak was flawless in stopping all 35 shots he faced.

"It's a playoff game," Gionta said afterward. "There's no doubt. We were tied in the standings and each game is huge."

Who's hot: Derek Roy has four goals and three assists during a four-game points streak for the Sabres. Pominville has eight goals and nine assists in his last 13 games.

Plekanec has three goals in his last four games for the Canadiens. Halak, who is coming off his fourth shutout of the season, has allowed two goals or less in six of his last seven starts. He is 8-2-1 in his last 11 decisions.

Injury report:
Buffalo forward Patrick Kaleta will miss the remainder of the regular season after undergoing thumb surgery. Vanek (lower body) and fellow forward Tim Connolly (foot) are out indefinitely.

Montreal forward Sergei Kostitsyn (lower body) and defenseman Jaroslav Spacek (flu-like symptoms) are day-to-day. Forward Glen Metropolit is out long-term with a separated shoulder. Defenseman Paul Mara is finished for the season following shoulder surgery.

Stat pack:
Halak and Carey Price have each appeared in 41 games and started 39 for the Canadiens. Halak, who appears to be the starter as the playoffs approach, is 25-12-3 with a 2.37 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. Price is 13-20-5 with a 2.77 GAA and a .912 save percentage.

Puck drop:
Once the calendar page turns to April, there's precious little time to pat yourself on the back following a hard-fought victory. Halak was well aware of that Friday.

"I think everybody knew the importance of tonight's game," he said. "Everybody did the job. Everybody is happy with the results. We just have to make sure we play the same way (Saturday)."

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