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'Winning streak' has nice ring to it for Sabres

So is this it? Is this the team Buffalo Sabres fans have been waiting for since the start of the season?

Or are the Sabres just teasing the faithful as they try to escape the cellar?

This weekend could provide a good indicator. The Sabres have won back-to-back games for the first time in a month, and they get a chance to double that streak in the next two days. The Sabres host Montreal tonight in HSBC Arena then visit the Canadiens on Saturday.

A pair of wins would put the Sabres (8-10-1) back at .500. It also would provide an unlikely ending to the team's travels through the Northeast Division.

The Sabres are ending a stretch of nine straight with their closest rivals, and they are 3-4 so far. Finishing the spurt with a winning record would be impressive considering they started 1-4.

"We've got five teams that are playing excellent hockey in our division," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Thursday. "If you can go over that .500 mark and move on, it's been a pretty good run for us."

The Sabres have started to turn their fortunes by playing like the team their fans expected from Game One: The offense is striking quickly. The Sabres scored three times in the first period in each of the last two games.

The goaltending is solid. Ryan Miller has a .931 save percentage over his past seven games, and he has allowed two or fewer goals in five of them.
The defense, though prone to untimely giveaways, has limited scoring chances and odd-man rushes.

"Look back at the last few weeks, the last seven, eight games or so, I think we've played well even though the results didn't come early," left wing Thomas Vanek said. "I think they're coming now. If we continue to play like that and work hard, the wins are going to come."

Added defenseman Brian Campbell: "We're getting to where we need to be. I think it's going on for more than the last two wins that we've had, but we're getting to where we need to be. We're not there yet."

That was the common refrain throughout the dressing room Wednesday and Thursday. The Sabres know they have performed well, but despite the victories -- including Wednesday's 4-2 win over Ottawa, the NHL's top team -- they say they can do better.

"It's moving forward," Miller said. "We're doing a lot better job of doing what we want to do, which is support each other, get pucks to the net. I thought the biggest difference was the guys looked very hungry to get that puck back. A lot of times we were forcing turnovers in their zone, and that led to opportunities for us."

If the Sabres do keep improving, their status as the worst team in the division and second-worst in the conference could disappear soon. They play four games in the next six nights, so there are a lot of points to be earned in a hurry.

A victory tonight would allow the Sabres to tie their longest winning streak of the season, set way back in the second week of the season. The Canadiens, meanwhile, have played lose-one, win-one hockey for the past six games; they beat the Islanders on Wednesday.

The Sabres want to show this weekend they are no longer the team that can win a game or two, then fall into a three-game losing skid.

"We're going to work on putting together a real good run," Ruff said. "Our goals against are going down. Our goals for are going up. We're playing sounder. We had some painful defensive games; I think our defensive play is getting a lot better. That's the thing that I have really been most impressed with.

"I've said this for two weeks now, we've played a lot better than our record indicates. We just said we've got to stay with it."


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