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Miller is leading the charging Sabres toward playoffs

by John Kreiser
Two years ago, Ryan Miller carried Team USA within a goal of Olympic gold. This year, he's carrying the Buffalo Sabres on a charge toward the playoffs.

Ryan Miller
Goalie - BUF
RECORD: 29-18-7
GAA: 2.48 | SVP: 0.917
Miller is playing his best hockey since the 2010 Vancouver Games just when the Sabres need him most. He won all four of his starts last week, including a 24-save performance Saturday night in a 3-1 victory against Minnesota that moved the Sabres into eighth place in the East.

After a slow start this season, Miller has been on a tear -- and so have the Sabres, who are 18-5-5 in their last 28 games in a surge that has carried them from 14th to eighth. Miller has allowed just 18 goals while going 7-0-2 in his last nine -- and shows no signs of slowing down.

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

Alex Ovechkin -- He won't come close to 50 goals this season, but Ovechkin has quietly started to score in bunches. He had a pair against Winnipeg Friday night, giving him 35 for the season and six in his last four games.

James Neal -- Getting Neal from Dallas 13 months ago has turned out to be a steal for the Penguins. He reached the 35-goal mark on Tuesday with a hat trick and added an assist, then set up four goals on Thursday night -- giving him eight points in two games.

Brian Rolston -- The 39-year-old appears rejuvenated after being dealt to Boston by the Islanders at the trade deadline. He has nine points during a five-game scoring streak -- matching his entire season production on Long Island.

Cody Hodgson -- After 10 scoreless games with his new team, Hodgson has finally started producing points for the Buffalo Sabres. He had a two-assist game Monday, a two-goal game two nights later and a goal and assist Saturday night for a six-point week.

Ilya Bryzgalov -- Bryzgalov's goaltending is the primary reason the Flyers have wrapped up a playoff berth with two weeks to go in the season. He did lose a game last week (despite allowing just two goals) before beating Washington and Montreal while allowing just one goal in each game -- he's allowed two goals or less in his last 12 games.

Five down -- Five players who are struggling:

Rene Bourque -- Montreal acquired Bourque from Calgary hoping he'd juice their offense. It hasn't happened. Bourque has gone eight games without a point and has just one assist since his last goal -- a month ago against Washington.

Olli Jokinen -- Bourque's former teammate with the Flames has gone cold at the wrong time. With his team struggling to score, Jokinen hasn't had a point in his last seven games and is minus-7 in that span.

Olli Jokinen
Center - CGY
GOALS: 21 | ASST: 37 | PTS: 58
SOG: 210 | +/-: -5
Marc Staal -- The Rangers don't rely on Staal for a lot of offense from the blue line, but they could use more than a 15-game scoreless streak during which he's minus-4.

Marty Reasoner -- The Islanders signed Reasoner, a veteran center, after he had career bests of 14 goals and 32 points last season with Florida. His scoring ability hasn't made the trip to Long Island -- Reasoner has gone more than a year without a goal and hasn't had a point in 27 games since Dec. 15.

Martin Brodeur -- The winningest shootout goaltender in NHL history was beaten three times in as many tries by Toronto on Saturday, capping a seven-day stretch in which he went 0-2-1 and allowed 12 goals on just 98 shots (not counting the three in the shootout).

Injuries, news and notes -- It didn't take Nicklas Lidstrom long to have an impact on his team. Detroit's captain returned Saturday after missing 11 games with an ankle injury -- the longest injury-related absence of his career -- and had an assist as Detroit rallied to beat Carolina 5-4 to snap a six-game losing streak.

Out -- Vancouver's Daniel Sedin hasn't played since suffering a concussion on Wednesday. … Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello broke his left wrist on Friday while blocking a shot and is out indefinitely. … Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen sat out Saturday due to an upper-body injury sustained on Thursday. … Ottawa goaltender Ben Bishop left Saturday's game with a lower-body injury. … Edmonton captain Shawn Horcoff left Friday's game with a sore back. Lennart Petrell hasn't played since leaving Tuesday's game with a groin injury. … Anaheim defenseman Nate Guenin sustained small fractures above his left eye on Wednesday; he won't need surgery but could miss the rest of the season. … Toronto played its last two games without forwards Matt Frattin (lower body) and Clarke MacArthur (upper body). … Minnesota's deluge of injuries continued Saturday when forward Matt Cullen broke a finger on his right hand. Goaltender Niklas Backstrom is dealing with a groin problem and defenseman Jared Spurgeon suffered a concussion earlier in the week. Matt Kassian is also sidelined with a groin injury. … Carolina forward Andreas Nodl (upper body) missed his third straight game on Saturday.

Returning -- New Jersey center Travis Zajac hopes to return Sunday. He has played only eight games this season and none since early January as he recovers from Achilles tendon surgery in the offseason. … Boston forward Rich Peverley, out since Feb. 15 with a knee injury, could return as early as Sunday. … Nashville center Paul Gaustad returned Saturday after missing four games with an upper-body injury. … Calgary forward Michael Cammalleri returned Saturday from an upper-body injury. … Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson was back in the net on Friday after missing a month with a finger injury. … Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu returned Thursday from a shoulder injury.

Nicklas Backstrom
Center - WSH
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 29 | PTS: 42
SOG: 90 | +/-: -2
Still out -- Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) has been given the green light to fully participate in Washington's practices. He hasn't played since Jan. 3. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun is still out with a groin injury … Chicago defenseman Steve Montador (concussion) has been given permission to take part in contact drills; however, there's still no timetable for his return. Captain Jonathan Toews, also troubled by what's suspected to be concussion-related problems, is skating but not ready to return. … Detroit is still without goaltenders Jimmy Howard (groin) and Joey MacDonald (back).  … Los Angeles forward Simon Gagne (concussion) may not play again this season. He's been out since Dec. 26 and still isn't practicing. … Columbus goaltender Curtis Sanford will miss the rest of the season with a muscle tear in his leg. … Tampa Bay forward Ryan Shannon will miss the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery.

The week ahead -- It's another game-packed week -- 17 of the 30 teams play four times, and only the Phoenix Coyotes have a two-game week.

Games to watch:

Ottawa at Winnipeg (March 26)
-- The Jets return home to host another must-win game against a team they're trying to catch for a playoff berth in the East.

Buffalo at Washington (March 27) -- The winner of this game figures to have the inside track on a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

San Jose at Phoenix (March 29; NHLN-CA) -- It's the second game in less than a week between two of the six teams scrambling for playoff berths in the West.

Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (April 1; NBC) -- The Flyers, who ended Pittsburgh's 11-game winning streak two weeks earlier, pay the first of two visits in seven days to Consol Energy Center.

Boston at New York Rangers (April 1; NBCSN/TSN2) -- The Rangers go for a season sweep of the Bruins as they try to hang on to the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Tough week ahead:

Dallas Stars -- The Stars head for a three-game swing through Western Canada -- then tack on a visit to San Jose for a tough four-game week.

Florida Panthers -- This week may be the biggest test of the season for the Panthers, who lead the Southeast Division and are trying to end a playoff drought that dates to 2000. The Panthers have four games in six days, all on the road and ending in Detroit on Sunday.

Los Angeles Kings -- The Kings tour the Northwest Division this week, with three games in Western Canada before a stop in Minnesota.

Easy week ahead:

Phoenix Coyotes -- While their Western Conference playoff rivals have a busy week, the Coyotes spend the next seven days at home playing only twice -- against Pacific Division rivals San Jose and Anaheim.

Toronto Maple Leafs -- The Leafs spent the next-to-last week of the season at home hosting Carolina, Philadelphia and Buffalo.

Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks, who've clinched a playoff berth and are on the verge of wrapping up the Northwest Division, are one of the teams that play four games this week -- but they play all four at home.
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