It's not a secret that as goes Ryan Miller, so go the Sabres. When the franchise netminder is on his game, they are one of the most difficult opponents in the Eastern Conference, even if the Buffalo offense is struggling.
Given that the Sabres are now 4-0-3 in their last seven games, that's very bad news for the teams in front of them in the final days of the playoff chase.
Cody McCormick and Brad Staubitz would drop the gloves during an early first-period faceoff, setting a tone that would run through the game as each side looked for big hits and the Canadiens in particular seemed to seek out "revenge" opportunities. For their part, the Sabres were happy to give up chances for physical blows when they could break through with the puck, and that strategy paid off early when Cody Hodgson broke through several defenders at the blue line and moved in off the boards, but lost control of the puck when Carey Price delivered a quick poke-check.
Chasing the puck from behind the back of the net, Hodgson would wrap around and sneak the puck between the post and Price's skate for his first goal since Feb. 23 -- also making it his first in a Sabres uniform after going scoreless in the 11 games following the trade deadline.
Despite the goal, the Canadiens outshot the Sabres 15-10 in the first period, but Miller's aggressive saves and puck handling were the difference as he shut down the Montreal offense, leaving Sabres up 1-0 after 20 minutes.
Buffalo would strike early once again in the second period, this time with captain Jason Pominville finding the loose puck after a scramble for an Andrej Sekera rebound and shooting it through Carey Price's legs after the goaltender lost track of the play.
Bottling the Canadiens in their own zone for several stretches, the Sabres began to turn up the offensive pressure, forcing Louis Leblanc into a delay of game penalty midway through the period. Holding the 2-0 advantage through the second period, Buffalo could clearly see the window of opportunity opening. Hold the lead, prevent a repeat of their last meeting, and the reward would be a chance to move ahead of the Washington Capitals for the eighth seed.
Burning with a desire to spoil the party, the Canadiens continued to look for opportunities to break back into the game, but their same intensity boiled over into several penalties, hampering the effort.
With Brad Staubitz being called for an interference penalty after a hit on Christian Ehrhoff, the Sabres Power Play would go to work, and Cody Hodgson would get the opportunity to score his second goal in a Buffalo uniform after a perfect cross-ice pass from Derek Roy at the half wall set him up for a quick one-timer in the slot.
With a 3-0 lead, some fans in Montreal had to be hoping for history to repeat itself, but the Sabres maintained their discipline until the dying minutes, when penalties to Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty put each side down a skater before P.K. Subban got into a scrum with Drew Stafford along the boards that sent Subban to the box after a long tussle.
After a final faceoff, the Sabres would allow the clock to tick down before closing the books on their season series with Montreal and a 3-0 shutout victory, Miller's third against the Canadiens in his career.