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Another night, another win, another way

They've done it so many times in so many ways with so many players that after a while you start wondering if it's ever going to end. There's no better feeling for a team than when it's riding a winning streak. The Buffalo Sabres have swept up this town, and people are wondering if they'll ever lose again.

It's ludicrous to think the Buffalo Sabres can run the table, win 16 straight games and march the Stanley Cup down Delaware Avenue. But you can't help but believe this team might actually be better than anybody imagined, even in recent days, as they rattled off six wins, then seven and now eight.

The Sabres' latest victim was the Toronto Maple Leafs, the neighborhood bullies from the center of the hockey universe. The Leafs outplayed the Sabres in the first period, played pretty well in the third, too, before Buffalo won, 3-1. Did anybody really doubt whether the Sabres would eventually win?

Here we are with a month remaining in the regular season, and the rest of the NHL still hasn't grasped what's happening with the local travel team. The Sabres have 44 victories and are on pace to break the club record 49, but around the league they're still viewed as a surprise team.

How many times this season have they been labeled as the hottest team in the NHL? It's catchy. It's easy. It also comes with the connotation that the Sabres are playing beyond their potential, that the moons are aligned and everything is magically snapping into place. The reality is this team is darned good and dangerous.

We've witnessed separate winning streaks of four, five, six, seven and now eight games. Can't we just call the Sabres what they've been for three-plus months, the best team in the entire league? Buffalo has a 36-8-5 record since a four-game losing streak in November, the last time it lost consecutive games in regulation. The Sabres have earned a point in 17 of their past 18 games.

It's not a hot team, folks. It's the best team over that period by a mile. Carolina and Ottawa are ahead of Buffalo for now, but neither team touches Buffalo over the same stretch. A few months ago, the Sabres cringed at the thought of playing the Senators. They couldn't wait to get to Ottawa for a matchup Saturday. They genuinely believe they can win every game.

"You really do get that feeling," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Those guys in that room deserve a lot of credit. They push each other. They encourage each other. They're hard on each other at times. But they like playing with each other. Those guys are determined to have somebody make a difference every night."

It was Ryan Miller's turn Thursday night. Doubts about whether he could stand up to postseason pressure began creeping into town last week while Miller endured a mini-slump. Toronto was a desperate team playing the equivalent of a playoff game. Miller stood on his head, especially in the third period.

And the Sabres will play whatever style is necessary. At times, they've simply skated their opponents out of the rink. They can run and gun, as they did against Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. They beat Boston with smarts, Washington with heart. On Thursday night, they beat Toronto with patience.

The Leafs tried pressuring the Sabres into mistakes, but Buffalo waited until Toronto cracked. Danny Briere dangled the puck through the zone in the second period, lured Luke Richardson out of position, knew Chris Drury would be camped at the doorstep. While the Leafs were scrambling for a goal in a tie game, Mike Grier calmly found a gap and banged home his own rebound.

Drury took a four-minute high sticking penalty late, and nobody panicked. The Sabres killed it off, and Drury wound up scoring short-handed into an empty net a few minutes later. Another game, another win. Never a doubt.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com