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Not-so-friendly hosts Miller's 35 saves keys latest win Buffalo subdues Habs to earn fifth straight victory in HSBC Arena

There are a lot of ways to win home games.

Teams can be physical, show they won't be pushed around in their own building. They can take advantage of fortuitous bounces, hops they wouldn't get on the road. They can play solid, almost mistake-free hockey -- a typical "road game," if you will -- frustrate the opponent and score when the opportunity arises.

The Sabres did all of the above Friday night. They beat the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2, in HSBC Arena, further establishing the foot of Washington Street as a place where the home team takes care of business.

The Sabres have won five straight at home, erasing their early season woes and improving to 15-9-2 in the arena.

"It's our barn," said Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta, who had a team-high three hits to set a physical tone. "Over the past little while, [we've] really put an emphasis on [winning at home]. You've heard it from [coach] Lindy [Ruff], [you've] heard it from the players, and it's good to see that we're actually doing it instead of talking about it."

The victory also established the Sabres as players in the Eastern Conference. They moved into a sixth-place tie with Philadelphia at 61 points, just three behind the fourth-place Canadiens.

There are 29 games to go -- including tonight's visit to Ottawa -- and the Sabres are rounding into form for the stretch. They have won seven of their past 10 games and 12 of the past 18.

"Obviously, we're going in the right direction, but we have to maintain that," Ruff said. "We have to put what we've done behind us, look ahead and set some goals and be realistic about trying to creep up on the teams ahead of us."

A good way to do that is get solid goaltending, and the Sabres certainly are. Ryan Miller held the Canadiens off the board during their 15-shot first period and finished with 35 saves.

"The first period he did a real good job for us, keeping us in there," Ruff said. "The second period, we really responded and played a solid period in front of him. We only gave up one or two opportunities. The third period was a tough battle, and we expected that."

The three-goal second period started with a blast. Jaroslav Spacek, whose shot has been known to miss the mark, was perfect with a slap shot just 27 seconds in. The defenseman stepped over the blue line, wound up and lasered one just inside the far post, under Carey Price's glove.

Saku Koivu scored on the power play to tie the game midway through, snapping Miller's personal-best shutout streak at 157:13. He had back-to-back blankings of Phoenix and Toronto.

The Sabres' best line -- Adam Mair, Nathan Paetsch and Matt Ellis -- combined to take the lead back just 1:55 later. Mair spotted Paetsch moving to the slot, and the erstwhile defenseman connected top shelf.

If anyone doubted who would give the Sabres a two-goal cushion in the third period, that person hasn't been watching No. 19 lately. Tim Connolly scored his ninth goal in nine games with 15:05 left, and it was a gift.

Defenseman Mike Komisarek attempted to send the puck around the Montreal net, but it hit the back boards and bounced to Connolly in front. He put a backhander over Price for his 11th goal of the year.

The Sabres needed the boost. The Canadiens climbed within one with 3:26 to play, scoring when Roman Hamrlik was left alone in the slot. But lately, the Sabres just don't lose at home.

"You don't strap it on and all of a sudden win," Ellis said. "It's about getting dirty doing the little things. Guys have really bought in. We have that defense-first mentality, we're taking care of our own end, and we're letting our guys do their thing with the puck up the ice.

"The team's really taken a turn here."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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