The Buffalo Sabres are trying to pad their lead for the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, and Ryan Miller is likely to make a big difference.
He should get a chance to help the team do that Friday night when the Sabres host the punchless Florida Panthers, who have been blanked through the first two games of a five-game road trip.
With nine games remaining, eighth-place Buffalo (36-28-9) has a three-point lead over Carolina and Toronto -- currently tied for ninth. The Maple Leafs, though, have played two more games than the Sabres and Hurricanes.
The Sabres moved into a postseason spot thanks largely to a 9-3-3 run, during which Miller has gone 7-3-3 with a 2.29 goals-against average. He kept them surging with a stellar 31-save performance and Nathan Gerbe did all the scoring in a 2-0 win at Montreal on Tuesday.
"We've got to get the points at all times," Miller said. "Just watching what other teams do, they're scraping by, they're getting to overtime. There are a lot of three-point games out there so you just have to scrape and battle."
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner might be in for another big effort against the Panthers (29-35-10), who are coming off Wednesday's 4-0 loss at Chicago after opening their swing with a 1-0 defeat to the New York Rangers on Tuesday.
In a 3-2 overtime win at Florida on Feb. 10, Miller made 24 saves and Gerbe set up Tyler Myers with five seconds left in the extra session.
Gerbe is entering this meeting on a roll, having scored five goals in five games. He has 13 goals and 13 assists through 55 games in his first full season in the NHL.
"As you play more games you get more confidence, but I think everyone on this team just seems to help out and talk a lot, especially a lot of the older guys," Gerbe told the team's official website. "They all give me tips to work on defensively or things I can do offensively. I think the more time you spend here the more you grow and develop, but it also comes from the guys within who help out a lot."
Myers set up one of Gerbe's goals against the Canadiens, and has five assists during a three-game points streak. Last season's Calder Trophy winner, Myers has two goals and seven assists in seven career games versus Florida.
The Panthers, losers of four straight on the road, are 14th in the East and 13 points behind Buffalo with eight games remaining. A loss in regulation to the Sabres would guarantee Florida a 10th consecutive season without a playoff appearance.
"You're not going to win any games unless you score a goal, and that's been our problem here for a few games now," coach Peter DeBoer said.
Florida may be in for a lift offensively if Stephen Weiss is able to return from a leg injury that's sidelined him for two games. He leads the team with 49 points, and has 21 goals to tie David Booth for first on the team.
Weiss has three goals and two assists during a four-game points streak prior to getting hurt. He's scored two goals and set up three others in the last three visits to Buffalo.
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