Sabres-Maple Leafs Preview
Some recent success has helped the Buffalo Sabres build a bit of a cushion in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The visiting Sabres look for a season-high fourth consecutive victory while trying to avoid a third straight loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
Owner of the eighth playoff spot in the East, Buffalo (38-28-9) has won 11 of 17 and is in the midst of a 4-0-1 stretch that's allowed it to build a five-point lead over ninth-place Carolina. The Sabres are seven points ahead of 10th-place Toronto with seven games remaining.
With some apparent breathing room, Buffalo can now focus on catching Montreal and the New York Rangers - both two points ahead of the Sabres.
"I'm happy with our progress. We're on the right path,'' goaltender Ryan Miller said. "But I'm not going to be happy so to speak until the job's done.''
Miller has been a big reason for his team's recent success, allowing two goals on 85 shots and posting two of his five shutouts during the three-game winning streak. He made 30 saves in a 2-0 win over New Jersey on Saturday.
"Right now he's in a good zone and playing well,'' said teammate Nathan Gerbe, who scored his sixth goal in seven games Saturday. "He knows what's on the line and he knows he's the type of goalie that can steal games. And he's definitely done that for us.''
Though Miller's 24 wins and four shutouts in 34 career games versus Toronto are his most against any opponent, he's posted a 3.07 goals-against average while the Sabres have dropped the last two against the Maple Leafs after winning the first three meetings this season.
Miller allowed two third-period goals in a 4-3 loss at Toronto on March 12.
Jordan Leopold scored in that contest, but will miss at least the rest of regular season after breaking his left hand in Buffalo's 4-2 win over Florida on Friday. Leopold leads all Sabres defensemen with 13 goals.
"Every team suffers blows. We suffered one,'' coach Lindy Ruff said. "We need someone to step in and play well. But there's areas of the game where he's definitely going to be missed.''
While New Jersey was unable to take advantage of Leopold's absence, the Maple Leafs (34-32-10) hope to do so while trying to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
Toronto had its three-game winning streak snapped with a 4-2 loss at Detroit on Saturday.
"Big loss for our team in the standings but we have to respond,'' Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said.
The Maple Leafs have six games left, including three at home where they have won two of three.
"It sucks to be in this position where you have to depend on other teams but that's where we are and that's all right," rookie goaltender James Reimer told the Maple Leafs' official website.
Reimer made 39 saves earlier this month to improve to 2-1-0 versus Buffalo.
Toronto star Phil Kessel has a goal with three assists the last four games and scored in each of the last two against the Sabres.