BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff thinks the Sabres can win
their final six games of the season. They might just have to in order to make
J.P. Dumont and Adam Mair both scored in the second period to lift the
Sabres to a 2-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night.
Buffalo closed the gap to six points on the New York Islanders in the race
for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
``I liked every aspect of our game,'' Ruff said. ``We want to play each game
very well and get points.''
But the Sabres' postseason hopes continue to be slim at best. If the
Islanders play .500 hockey in their final six games, the Sabres have to win
their last six contests to qualify for the postseason.
Still, Wednesday's victory gave the Sabres plenty of hope.
``Absolutely,'' said Mair when asked if his team has enough in the tank to
overtake the Islanders. ``Right now we're focused on a game-by-game basis
rather than lumping all the games together.''
The Sabres were helped by a strong effort in goal by Martin Biron, who
missed out on his second shutout of the season when Michael Ryder scored his
24th goal with a backhander from the left circle with under six minutes to go.
``It's a game where you have to make some big saves,'' Biron said. ``Right
now we have to do whatever we need to do to get into the playoffs.''
Montreal failed in their bid to qualify for the postseason for the second
time in six years. The Canadiens need just one point in their next five games
to secure a playoff berth.
Montreal is in seventh place in the East, two points behind the New Jersey
``I think we were a little sluggish,'' Ryder said. ``After we scored we
realized we had a chance to get a point out of it. If we would have pushed a
little more early in the game it would have been a different story.''
Dumont gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead at 6:07 of the second period with his 20th
goal. After corralling a pass from Daniel Briere in the left circle, Dumont's
hard wrist shot went into the top right corner.
Less than four minutes later, Mair made it 2-0 with his sixth goal. Standing
in front of the Montreal net, Mair blocked defenseman Jeff Jillson's shot from
the right point. The puck dropped right onto Mair's stick, and he quickly
turned around and fired a shot that beat Mathieu Garon along the ice.
Biron finished with 24 saves for Buffalo, who have points in seven of eight
``To me, I think we missed a lot of chances,'' Biron said. ``But I still
think we played really well.''
The Canadiens went down with a flurry of shots in the final five minutes.
Some were able to get through to Biron, while others were blocked by defenders,
who were diving to stop pucks at every opportunity.
``Guys were really playing hard in front of me,'' Biron said.
Garon made 31 saves in starting for the fourth time in eight games.
``I thought both goalies played really well,'' Montreal coach Claude Julien
said. ``I just thought our second period wasn't that good, and that ended
costing us the hockey games.''
Buffalo continued its dominance of Montreal at home, winning for the seventh
straight time since losing 5-2 on Oct. 26, 2001.
``They have built a reputation of playing tough at home,'' Julien said.
``We've lost quite a few games here over the years.''
The Sabres will no doubt be intently watching the Islanders game in
Philadelphia on Thursday, knowing they have little room for error.
``All you can do is win your games,'' Biron said.