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After hot streak, Miller falters in two losses

The hottest four-game stretch of Ryan Miller's career propelled the Buffalo Sabres into the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But Miller was pretty ordinary the last two nights and the Sabres suffered steep consequences.

"We scored some goals [Saturday] so I didn't need to be perfect," a steely-eyed Miller said after the 4-3 loss to Toronto in the Air Canada Centre. "I probably needed to make another save or two but that's how it goes."

Miller gave up just three goals in four games as the Sabres used a five-game winning streak to move past Washington. But now he's given up four in back-to-back games, against Pittsburgh and Toronto, for the first time since mid-January.

There were varying degrees of trouble Saturday. Miller whiffed with the glove on Joey Crabb's short-handed breakaway in the first period and got burned between the legs by Phil Kessel early in the second.

"It went 5-hole, just found a hole," Miller said. "Shot through a screen there. I knew he was trying to put it on net and I just didn't have it."

The back-breaker was John-Michael Liles, Miller's close friend and former Michigan State teammate, bulling through the crease to poke home a rebound with 0.7 seconds left in the second period.

The play was reviewed, as the clock expired after the puck entered the net. During the review, a replay complete with the clock streamed on the scoreboard and Miller looked up to watch. He then looked down and wiggled his head side to side in disgust.

He was still agitated by the play after the game.

"We had control of the puck and didn't manage the clock very well," Miller said. "They were much more aware. John-Michael got it and he was well aware of what he could be doing with that much time on the clock because he was in the crease. Why not go for it?"

It was Miller who sparked the Sabres' rush up the standings as he entered Saturday 19-4-5 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .938 save percentage since Jan. 24. But the two games over the weekend produced marks of 4.07 and .871 for Miller.

"We needed to play a better game and we didn't react well enough," Miller said. "I thought we turned the puck over quite a bit and didn't do things it's going to take to beat that team until a little bit later."

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Miller's counterpart at the other end of the ice, Toronto rookie Ben Scrivens, earned the first home win of his career by making 29 saves. Scrivens previous two victories this year were in November at Columbus and St. Louis.

Scrivens actually gave the Sabres organization a double crimp in their playoff plans this weekend. On Friday night in Rochester, he made 33 saves to lead the Toronto Marlies to a 5-4 overtime win over the Amerks.

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The Sabres knew Christian Ehrhoff (knee) was still out with the injury he suffered Tuesday in Washington and Mike Weber (upper body) was ruled out of this one after getting crunched into the boards Friday by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke.

The surprise scratch Saturday was Tyler Myers, who was felled by a shot to the foot in the third period Friday. Myers suffered the injury while blocking a shot by Pittsburgh's Paul Martin with 13 1/2 minutes to play. Prior to Saturday's game, a grim-faced coach Lindy Ruff declined to speculate on Myers' status, other than to say he was day to day.

Myers played 22 minutes, 12 seconds in the game, including six shifts after taking the shot. But in cases like that, players often realize the severity of an injury when the foot swells after they remove their skates.

Brayden McNabb and T.J. Brennan were both summoned on emergency recall from Rochester to replace Weber and Myers. McNabb played 14:32 and had a team-high four hits but took a minus-1 as he was in the goal crease and unable to prevent the Liles goal. Brennan played 11:56, was plus-1 and had three shots on goal.

Jordan Leopold led Buffalo in ice time for the third straight game at 25:16. He has been the workhorse of late, playing 28:35 in Washington and following that with 26:42 against the Pens.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com