Doesn't matter who's in the lineup and who's not. The Ottawa Senators get the job done against the Buffalo Sabres. Every single time.
Look what happened Friday in HSBC Arena. Milan Michalek, Alex Kovalev and Filip Kuba all missed the game with injuries. Mike Fisher got a game misconduct for boarding in the first period. That left the Sens without three of their top five goal scorers and the defenseman (Kuba) who plays the most minutes.
Didn't matter. A 4-2 victory makes it nine in a row over the Sabres -- including all five this season and 25 out of 35 since the NHL lockout.
"We've had success here," understated goaltender Brian Elliott, who is 8-0 against Buffalo in his career. "You feel good coming in here. You're not worrying about their game. You're just worried about your own."
"It's not like we feel, 'OK, it's Buffalo. We know we're going to win.' " said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "We know it's going to be a hard-fought game. We're ready for it and we feel they kind of bring the best out in us."
The streak against Ottawa was a cause celeb for the Sabres and their fans heading into this one. And the Sabres came out hitting on the first few shifts but Chris Kelly's goal at 6:42 of the first period helped the Senators stem the tide.
"We didn't start great so that was important," Alfredsson said. "That goal gave us momentum."
"When this crowd gets going, it's a tough building to play in," Elliott said. "So we were able to quiet everything down and get them on their heels a bit."
After back-to-back shutouts, Elliott lost his shutout streak at 175 minutes, 35 seconds, a little under nine minutes shy of the franchise record set by current Sabre backup Patrick Lalime. Was that a disappointment?
"What streak? That's the answer," Elliott said. "The streak of winning is still going. That's what matters. Nothing else."
The Sens have won three straight and Elliott has given up only two goals while the penalty killers are 15 for 15 in those games. It comes following a 1-7-1 skid after the Olympic break that killed all the momentum Ottawa gained from its 11-game winning streak.
"Considering the guys who were out of the lineup, that was a real good effort," said coach Cory Clouston. "We're getting the save when we need it. We're not robots. You can't expect everything to go well for you all the time."
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With the Sabres playing three games in four nights, it's reasonable to assume Lalime will get the start in goal tonight when Tampa Bay comes to town. Friday's game was Ryan Miller's fifth straight start since he was pulled early in the Sabres' loss at Atlanta on March 16.
Lindy Ruff generally doesn't announce his starters and Lalime said he didn't know the coach's plan. Lalime has been stuck on 199 career wins since beating Pittsburgh in relief on Dec. 29. His last start was March 12 against Minnesota and he was booed vociferously after his giveaway behind the net led to the Wild's second goal.
Several Sabres, notably Miller and Steve Montador, have said they were not happy with the fans' treatment of Lalime. Lalime was diplomatic when asked about that Friday.
"It was a couple goals and I made a mistake on one of them," Lalime said. "[The fans'] reaction is part of hockey and I've seen that before. You start winning and it goes the other way."