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Sabres hit the road feeling good after OT wins

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dan Bylsma has shown prophetic tendencies this season. Sometimes it’s bad, like when he talked about Philadelphia’s power play being due. The Flyers promptly potted three with the man-advantage to beat the Sabres.

Other times, it’s been good. The coach has been talking recently about what it will take for Buffalo to get on a roll. Bylsma said a couple of overtime or shootout victories would kick-start things.

Buffalo will carry a two-game winning streak into Tuesday’s game in Nashville, and both wins came during overtime. Bylsma hopes it’s the push the team needed as it heads into All-Star weekend with games against the Predators and Dallas.

“Over the past month, we’ve had opportunities to win some big games to catch teams and get back into the mix,” Bylsma said Monday. “With these last two wins and the four points in 32 hours, we get within three, four, five points.

“With two more games before the break and the possibility of four more points, it’d be huge for us to go on the road here to Nashville and Dallas and get some points, get some wins and put ourselves even closer to that spot where we want to be.”

Because of a wide disparity in games played, the Eastern Conference standings are a jumbled mess. Boston technically entered Monday’s schedule holding the third and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. But while the Bruins have 52 points in 50 games, the fourth-place Maple Leafs have 51 points in 44 games. If Toronto wins those games in hand, it would vault past Boston.

All the Sabres know is they’re at least in the conversation again with 47 points in 46 games.

“We have the opportunity to close out the month and try to get on a roll,” left wing Evander Kane said. “At this point we have to if we want to make up big ground.”

The overtime victories against Detroit on Friday and Montreal on Saturday helped the Sabres move up. Extra sessions had been killing the Sabres’ momentum, but they improved to 5-4-5 in games decided after regulation. The victories will give Buffalo a chance for its first three-game winning streak since Nov. 1.

Getting an early lead on the Predators will help. Nashville is the only NHL team without a regulation loss while scoring first. The Predators are 15-0-4 when making it 1-0.

Of course, scoring first hasn’t been a recipe for success for the Sabres. They rank 25th with a 12-5-6 record when getting the first goal. Kane wants that to change.

“We’re aggressive for the start, we grab a lead and we’ll pull back the reins,” Kane said. “I think that’s a recipe for disaster. Recently we’ve been doing a good job of scoring first. That’s relative to us having an aggressive mindset. I think that needs to continue throughout the game no matter if we’re up by two, three, four, five.”

An aggressive mindset from the defense is finally helping the Sabres. The unit has struggled for most of the season, but it earned deserved praise during the weekend.

Rasmus Ristolainen, Justin Falk, Zach Bogosian, Cody Franson and Taylor Fedun made up for the early departure of Jake McCabe on Friday. Against Montreal, Bogosian ended a 29-game scoring drought and Franson stopped a 25-game skid.

The Sabres have just seven goals from the blue-liners this season, but three have come in the last five games.

“It was nice to finally get one to go in,” Franson said. “That obviously helps matters a little bit. It was a good job by our whole D corps.

“When you’re able to execute your game plan, you’re able to generate a little more. I think our game’s become a little more solid because of it.”

The group, which includes recall Casey Nelson, is expected to get a boost this week. Dmitry Kulikov practiced Monday for the first time in nearly a month. He hasn’t played since Dec. 27 because of a back injury that has lingered since the preseason.

The full-contact workout in HarborCenter put him on the cusp of coming back.

“We’ll see how he responds from that,” Bylsma said, “but it bodes well for seeing him sometime this week.”

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