Eight days have made quite a difference in the Buffalo Sabres.
As of Oct. 16, the Sabres had lost four of their five games -- some in one-sided fashion -- and were near the bottom of the overall standings.
Now, the Sabres are at .500 after three straight wins. Number three came in Marine Midland Arena Thursday night, as Buffalo defeated Montreal, 6-3, before 15,897.
"Our spirits were down," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said about the team's state last week. "We had a couple of days to reflect on what was happening and we've responded."
The response came in the face of a difficult part of the schedule. Buffalo has defeated Pittsburgh, Washington and Montreal -- three playoff teams from last season -- in succession.
"We're happy. We're on a roll now," Derek Plante said. "The way we lost a couple of games was disappointing. The way we've come back shows the heart and character of this team. Maybe we've figured out what to do to play well."
Much of the credit for this latest win should go to the team's smaller players. Plante, Donald Audette, Brian Holzinger and Michael Peca all enjoyed big games. The Canadiens have been playing wide-open hockey this season and those Sabres seemed to thrive in that environment.
"With our speed, we have to use it. If we're not using our speed we're not very effective," Plante said. "They have some big defensemen over there. It's tough for them to keep up with us."
Plante was the game's first star. He had the first goal and the last goal of the night, and added an assist. That's not bad for someone who started the night on what was considered the "fourth" line.
"I wouldn't say I was on a mission or anything, but you want to get off the fourth line," Plante said. "I just want to do well . . . and I'm getting some breaks right now."
Audette may have had the biggest goal of the evening. The two teams were tied, 3-3, late in the second period, as the Canadiens had charged back from a 3-1 deficit on goals by Scott Thornton and Saku Koivu.
Buffalo had a power play in the final minute of the period, when Pat LaFontaine slipped a pass down low to Audette. The right winger was unguarded at close range. Goalie Pat Jablonski got a piece of Audette's shot, but he couldn't stop it from just crossing the goal line.
It had been a long time between goals for Audette. His last one came on Jan. 6 in Montreal. Since then, he has been recovering from major knee surgery. Audette hadn't scored in six previous games this season.
"It was an ugly one, but I'll take it," said Audette, who pulled his groin muscle during the game and will be evaluated today. "I've had a lot of chances the last few games and it didn't go in. I feel a lot better. The pressure is off me. The first one is always the hardest one to get. It's great to contribute with the game-winner."
"Donald is a quality player, a highly-skilled player," Nolan said. "It's good to see him get the monkey off his back."
Holzinger had a big short-handed goal in the second period, and added an assist. Peca's goal in the third period provided Buffalo with a two-goal lead.
The other Sabre score came from Matthew Barnaby, who was playing in his first game of the season after signing a new contract on Saturday.
"In the first period, I felt a little tired and sluggish," the winger said. "It's going to take some time to get my conditioning back. Teddy gave me the odd shift after that, and I felt pretty good. I think I could have played more."
"One of the good things that's happening is that a lot of guys are coming through on offense," Nolan said. "We've got some bench strength. . . . The guys are coming together now."
Buffalo will try to extend the "good things" Saturday when the Hartford Whalers come to town.