MONTREAL - Don't count the Buffalo Sabres out of the Eastern Conference playoff race just yet.
With goaltender Ryan Miller back from injury and a new sense of desperation in their play, the Sabres are looking to hunt down the Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens over their last seven games of the regular season and grab the eighth and final playoff spot.
Comeback wins over Florida and Montreal this week certainly helped the cause.
The Sabres sit 10th in the conference, three points behind Florida and four behind Montreal. The Canadiens and Sabres each have a game in hand over the Panthers. The New York Rangers, who lost Saturday to Pittsburgh, are only one point ahead of Montreal and have played one more game.
''We need all the positives we can get right now, but we also need to prove we can battle through adversity,'' Miller said. ''During the season, I don't think we handled it as well as we could and now is a good time to figure it out.
''There's still a lot of hockey left to play. It's a race to 82 games, so there are points to be had and we know we're in a battle. We feel we can compete, even if we're down. Those types of games are going to be good for us.''
Last Wednesday, the Sabres trailed the Panthers 3-1 going into the third period, but exploded for three goals in a 2:07 span and went on to a 5-3 win. They followed with a 5-3 win over Toronto on Friday night.
''We were down going into the third period and we needed to let it all out on the line,'' captain Craig Rivet recalled of the Florida game. ''That was our season in a nutshell - we lose that game, we'd be out.
''We gave a huge effort in the third period and that seemed to give us momentum going into the next game against Toronto.''
Then came an even bigger test - facing the Canadiens in Montreal only 24 hours after the Leafs.
Before the game, Rivet said it would be ''one of the deciding factors of whether we're giving ourselves a shot at making it. If we lose, it'll be a huge uphill battle to try to make it.''
Buffalo took a 2-0 lead in the second period but the fresher-looking Canadiens stormed back with three goals.
The Sabres didn't quit. They outshot Montreal 16-7 in the third period and got the equalizer from Clarke MacArthur at the 3:58 mark.
When overtime didn't settle it, Miller did, stopping all six Montreal attempts in a shootout, while low-scoring defenceman Tony Lydman beat a sharp Carey Price on Buffalo's sixth shot.
It wasn't ideal because Montreal earned one point, but it was another step for Buffalo. It gave the Sabres three wins a row heading into road games Wednesday in Atlanta and Friday in Washington, followed by a home game Saturday against New Jersey. Then they play Detroit.
Having Miller back from a high ankle sprain is Buffalo's best hope to avoid missing the post-season for a second straight year and for a fifth time in the last seven.