The Boston Bruins may have surprised some teams in the Eastern Conference with their fast start. Just don't count the Buffalo Sabres and coach Lindy Ruff among them.
Having won nine of their last 11 games overall, the red-hot Bruins will look for their sixth straight victory at the TD Banknorth Garden on Wednesday, when the Sabres visit for the second time in two weeks.
Behind crisp goaltending from Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez and a deep corps of talented young forwards, the Bruins (11-3-4) have earned at least a point in seven straight games, going 6-0-1 over that span and allowing two or fewer goals in each game.
One of those victories was a 3-1 home win over Buffalo on Nov. 8, as the Bruins peppered Sabres goalie Ryan Miller with 40 shots while Fernandez made 32 saves of his own.
Ruff admitted that his team was outhit in that game by a physical Boston lineup led by winger Milan Lucic, but he said Tuesday that he had already been expecting a resurgence this season from the Bruins, a playoff team from last spring that got center Patrice Bergeron back from injury and continues to see 21-year-old forward Phil Kessel emerge.
"They're trying to fly below the radar, but in our eyes, they're a very good team," Ruff said. "They've got (Zdeno) Chara on defense, a defense that's really supported well by the system. And (Thomas) has been fabulous, so they've got everything going for them. ... I expect them to be right there near the top the whole year."
Bruins coach Claude Julien wasn't thrilled with his team's play in a 3-2 win at Toronto on Monday, as his team was outshot 9-4 in the final period.
But behind 28 saves from Thomas, two assists from both Lucic and Marc Savard and the game-winning goal in the second period from Michael Ryder, Boston once again hung on for its sixth one-goal win of the season.
"You're going to have to get (wins) all kinds of different ways," said Thomas, who leads the NHL with a 1.78 goals-against average. "Is that the way we would have drawn it up? No. But we're happy to get the two points and now we can go regroup."
Julien said he thought his team, four games into an 10-games-in-18-days stretch, was showing "mental fatigue." Buffalo, meanwhile, hasn't played since a 5-2 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday.
The Sabres (9-5-3) led the Penguins 2-1 entering the final half of the third period, but allowed four goals in less than eight minutes en route to their second straight lopsided loss.
"We played really solid for 50 minutes and didn't play well for ten," forward Jason Pominville said. "They made some plays and (the puck) ended up in the back of our net. We're tired of getting scored against. We've got to make sure we sharpen up defensively and be ready for our next game."
Buffalo also lost 6-1 at home to Columbus on Friday, and has now dropped four of its last five, allowing 22 goals over that span. Since earning back-to-back shutouts earlier this month against Washington and New Jersey to start November, Miller is 1-2-1 with a 3.75 GAA in his last four starts.
He's typically played much better against Boston, going 12-4-4 with a 2.49 GAA in his career against the Bruins. The Sabres are 18-4-4 overall against the Bruins since the NHL lockout in 2004-05, including a 3-2 shootout win in Buffalo on Oct. 21.