With Ryan Miller playing like an Olympic star, the Buffalo Sabres are well on their way toward ending their postseason drought.
The Sabres, however, could give their goaltender a rest as they open a tough stretch Friday night at home against the struggling Minnesota Wild.
Buffalo hasn't reached the playoffs since winning the Northeast title in 2006-07, finishing five points shy of the postseason in 2007-08 and three short last season. The Sabres (36-20-9) should have more than enough to get back into the postseason as they lead Ottawa by two points for the division's top spot with three games in hand and 17 to play.
The next two weeks, though, will be crucial.
Buffalo will play six times in the next 10 nights, including a five-game road trip that begins Saturday against Detroit. Beginning with that trek, the Sabres will play 11 of their final 16 games away from home.
That makes rest all the more important for Miller, who has 33 wins and is second in the NHL with a 2.15 goals-against average.
Despite a 1.95 GAA during Buffalo's three-game winning streak, he's expected to sit in place of Patrick Lalime against the Wild (31-29-6), paving the way for the East Lansing, Mich. native to start against the Red Wings.
Miller also gave up three goals in a 10:32 span bridging the second and third periods in Minnesota before the Sabres rallied for a 4-3 overtime win on Oct. 23, 2008.
"I think with the fact that Ryan's had a tough grind, (starting Lalime is) definitely a possibility," coach Lindy Ruff told the team's official Web site.
Lalime is 2-3-0 with a tie and a 2.64 GAA in his career versus he Wild, last facing them in March 2008 while with Chicago. He could benefit from a resurgent offense if in net.
After tallying three times in consecutive defeats following the Olympic break, Buffalo has outscored its past three opponents 10-6, including a 5-3 win over Dallas on Wednesday.
Rookie defenseman Tyler Myers had a goal and career-high four points. Eight Buffalo players have found the back of the net during the winning streak, led by two apiece from Thomas Vanek and Adam Mair.
The Wild, meanwhile, have had trouble keeping opponents off the scoreboard during an 0-2-2 skid, which includes Thursday's 5-1 defeat in Detroit. Making his first appearance since Feb. 4, Josh Harding gave up three goals in the first 10:15 but stayed in the game because Niklas Backstrom hurt his groin during the morning skate.
"They came out and smacked us early," Wild center Kyle Brodziak said. "Jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Such a good team to try and come back on."
It's unknown if Backstrom will return to the net for his second career start against the Sabres. He was the loser in last season's overtime defeat when Derek Roy scored 44 seconds into the extra session.
If Backstrom gets the call, he'll try to help Minnesota avoid its season high-tying fifth straight loss, last done from Oct. 8-17.
The Wild have dropped five of the nine all-time matchups between the teams, but are searching for their fourth straight victory in Buffalo while making their first visit since March 9, 2007.