Ryan Miller's return is already paying dividends for the Buffalo Sabres. They hope he can help them avoid suffering a season sweep to the Atlanta Thrashers for the first time when they visit Philips Arena on Wednesday night.
Miller has been solid in consecutive starts since missing 13 games with a left ankle sprain. The goaltender made 32 saves plus six more in the shootout to help Buffalo (37-30-8) to a 4-3 win at Montreal on Saturday. That performance came a night after he stopped 33 shots in a 5-3 win over Toronto.
The Sabres went 4-7-2 without him.
"We need all the positives we can get right now, but we also need to prove we can battle through adversity," Miller said. "During the season, I don't think we handled it as well as we could and now is a good time to figure it out.
"There's still a lot of hockey left to play. It's a race to 82 games, so there are points to be had and we know we're in a battle. We feel we can compete, even if we're down. Those types of games are going to be good for us."
The Sabres have seven regular-season games left and are 10th in the Eastern Conference, chasing the Canadiens and Florida for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Miller, though, is still struggling with the injury.
"It's as good as it's going to get," said Miller, who is 8-3-1 with a 2.23 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last 12 games. "You don't get any more healing done until you stop putting the pressure on that hockey will do to it. This is something I can tolerate and compete, to help the guys win."
Miller is 6-2-3 with a 2.53 GAA and a shutout in 12 career games against the Thrashers. However, he lost his only matchup against them this season, 5-4 in overtime on Nov. 7.
Miller was sidelined for the Sabres' last game against Atlanta (32-38-6), a 4-3 shootout loss on March 14.
Buffalo has lost all three matchups this season with the Thrashers, who already have been eliminated from playoff contention. The Sabres also have dropped 10 of their last 13 games in Atlanta, including a 3-2 shootout defeat on Oct. 18 in their only visit this season.
Miller and the Sabres also must contend with a hot Ilya Kovalchuk, who is on a five-game point streak during which he has four goals and five assists.
The All-Star left wing scored a goal for a fourth consecutive contest and added an assist in a 6-3 win over Ottawa on Saturday. Kovalchuk is fourth in the NHL with 40 goals, reaching that milestone for a fifth consecutive season.
"I'd trade all my goals for a playoff spot," said Kovalchuk, the club's all-time leader with 294 goals and 553 points. "It's easy to score when everybody plays well. We're building some momentum for next year. I'll try for (300 goals). A couple of hat tricks and you're there."
Kovalchuk has nine goals and four assists in 12 home meetings with Buffalo, including goals in each of the last five.