Montreal Canadiens\' Saku Koivu, center, of Finland, celebrates his goal with Canadiens\' Christopher Higgins , left, and Max Pacioretty , right, during the second period of the NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y., Friday, Feb. 6, 2009. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/David Duprey
BUFFALO, N.Y. - Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller thinks it's premature to start talking about the playoff race with two months left in the NHL season.
Doesn't mean he doesn't deserve the credit for firmly putting his team in the post-season picture at this juncture.
Despite having his shutout string end at nearly 160 minutes, Miller was the difference, making 35 saves in a 3-2 win over Northeast Division rival Montreal Canadiens on Friday.
In winning their fifth straight home game and improving to 7-3 over their past 10, the Sabres, with 61 points, moved into a tie with idle Philadelphia for sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and within three points of Montreal.
"We're getting there," Miller said. "I'm not going to start looking at it too much. We're happy with the two points."
And the Sabres are more than happy with the way Miller's playing.
"Ryan kept us in the game," defenceman Jaroslav Spacek said. "It should've been two or three-nothing, and it would be tough to come back against a team like the Canadiens. ... Every night, he gives us a chance."
Miller improved to 11-3 in his past 14 games, a stretch in which he's allowed two or fewer goals 10 times - including a 2-0 shutout at Phoenix on Saturday, followed by a 5-0 win against Toronto on Wednesday night. His shutout string ended at 157:13 when Saku Koivu tied the game at one midway through the second period.
Spacek, in his first game back after missing two because of a hip injury, Nathan Paetsch and Tim Connolly scored for the Sabres.
Roman Hamrlik, who roofed a snap shot from the slot with 3:26 left, also scored for Montreal, which fell to 2-6 in its past eight and lost its fifth straight road game - its longest streak since Feb. 24-March 8 2007.
"Obviously, it's not an easy situation for our club," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. "We didn't capitalize on the chances we had, and they did."
The Sabres did make the most of their bounces.
Spacek opened the scoring in the first minute of the second period when he slapped a shot from inside the blue-line that appeared to handcuff Montreal goalie Carey Price. That was nothing compared to the lucky break that led to Connolly's goal, which give the Sabres a 3-1 lead 4:55 into the third period.
Montreal defenceman Michael Komisarek attempted to swing a pass behind his own net only to have the puck take a strange carom and bounce directly in front, where Connolly backhanded it in past Price.
In the meantime, Miller was at his best at the other end.
He stopped all 15 shots he faced in the first period, including robbing Max Pacioretty, who got in behind the goalie only to have Miller reach back and snag the shot out of the air. In the second period, Miller did the splits, getting his left pad out to get a piece of Andrei Kostitsyn's hard shot from the slot.
And in the third, Miller got his left pad out again to foil Andrei Markov's blast from the left circle with 4:15 left.
"You need your goalie to play well, and he did that," coach Lindy Ruff said. "He has played very well. There's no secret there."
The Canadiens were left frustrated following a game in which they carried most of the play.
"It's getting annoying going into the third period down. Every time it seems like playing catch-up," forward Chris Higgins said. "We need to get aggressive."
Notes: Paetsch, normally a defenceman, was bumped up to forward with Spacek returning to the lineup. ... Montreal's Mathieu Dandenault has been cleared to play after missing 24 games with a broken arm, but was a healthy scratch against Buffalo. He's expected to play Saturday, when the Canadiens host Toronto. ... Miller's previous best shutout streak was 149:12, set earlier this season.