GAME: Montreal Canadiens (40-26-7-3) at Buffalo Sabres (33-32-6-4).
TIME: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
The Montreal Canadiens need one point to clinch a playoff berth. The Buffalo
Sabres wish their postseason future was that simple.
Montreal will try to end a six-game losing streak at Buffalo when the
Northeast Division rivals meet for the fifth time this season.
The Canadiens are all but assured of reaching the playoffs for the second
time in six years, needing one point in their final six games. Montreal,
battling New Jersey for sixth in the Eastern Conference, is also involved in
the crowded race for the Northeast title.
Buffalo's situation is far different than Montreal's. The Sabres are ninth
in the East, trailing the New York Islanders for the final playoff spot, and
may need to win all of their remaining seven games to make the postseason for
the first time since 2000-01.
"It looks like a tough task, but our focus - and we're up to it - is to go
out and win every game," Sabres defenseman Jay McKee said. "We feel we can
beat anybody. We have a real good team. We have a playoff team. There's no
question in my mind about that."
Getting three of a possible four points in a home-and-home series with the
Devils over the weekend drew the Canadiens closer to Boston, Toronto and Ottawa
in the Northeast.
Rookie Michael Ryder had a goal and an assist, and Jose Theodore made 33
saves in Montreal's 3-2 home victory Saturday.
Jim Dowd and Alex Kovalev also scored for the Canadiens, unbeaten in four
straight (3-0-1) and 11-1-1-1 in their last 14 games.
"We have to give some credit to ourselves," Canadiens captain Saku Koivu
said. "We've played well against the good teams, and a lot of nights it's been
tight right until the end but we've been finding the way to win the games."
The home-and-home series against New Jersey also marked the return of
All-Star defenseman Sheldon Souray to the Montreal lineup. Souray, who has
career highs of 15 goals and 35 points this season, missed the previous 17
games with a knee injury.
Buffalo rebounded from a 3-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Thursday with a 2-1
victory at Florida on Saturday.
Miroslav Satan and Derek Roy scored first-period goals and Martin Biron
turned away 23 shots for the Sabres, who have points in six of seven (3-1-0-3).
Sabres center Chris Drury returned to the lineup Saturday after missing two
games with a mild concussion.
"It was a surprise to me, but it was a pleasant surprise, one I'll
certainly accept," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said.
The Sabres have won six straight at home against the Canadiens since a 5-2
loss on Oct. 26, 2001.
STANDINGS (through March 22): Canadiens - 90 points, 4th place, 5 PB,
Northeast Division. Sabres - 76 points, 5th place, 19 PB, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Canadiens - Richard Zednik, 25 goals; Mike Ribeiro, 41 assists
and 61 points; Darren Langdon, 135 PIM. Sabres - Satan, 29 goals; Daniel
Briere, 33 assists and 58 points; Andrew Peters, 134 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 22): Canadiens - Power play: 18.1 percent (54
for 298), 7th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.9 percent (235 for 287), 24th. Sabres
- Power play: 16.4 percent (56 for 342), 14th. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent
(275 for 325), 10th.
GOALTENDERS: Canadiens - Theodore (32-24-5, 6 SO, 2.17 GAA); Mathieu Garon
(8-5-2, 2.34). Sabres - Biron (22-17-4, 1, 2.69); Mika Noronen (11-16-2, 2,
SEASON SERIES: 2-2.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 27; Sabres, 4-1. At Buffalo, N.Y., Maxim Afinogenov, Ales
Kotalik and Drury scored third-period goals, and Biron stopped 29 shots.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Canadiens - 18-15-3-2 on the road; Sabres - 18-12-4-3 at