Using a pair of unproven goaltenders until Craig Anderson returns from a finger injury, the Ottawa Senators knew they would have to raise their play offensively to maintain their playoff position.
Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek have done just that as they try to lead the Senators to a third straight victory as they host the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
The Senators (36-25-8) are 9-3-1 in their last 13 games following a 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday night. Four players scored for Ottawa, which overcame an early deficit and got 25 saves from Ben Bishop - acquired from St. Louis before the trade deadline - in his home debut.
"Benny's played great. Last game he played real good," said Spezza, whose empty-net goal sealed the win. "You could tell he was real calm tonight, you're always a little more comfortable playing at home and he was real big for us, made some big saves at the right time and did a great job."
Spezza, whose 73 points lead the team, has nine goals and 13 assists during Ottawa's surge. The Senators are one point behind New Jersey for sixth in the Eastern Conference and three back of Boston for the Northeast Division lead, though the Devils have two games in hand on them and the Bruins have three.
Offense has been the key to the Senators' recent run, with the team scoring 51 goals in the last 13 games after being held to nine during a seven-game losing streak preceding its turnaround. Michalek, who has a team-high 32 goals, has contributed nine goals and nine assists during the hot streak.
"I think we've had a balanced attack all year long," coach Paul MacLean said. "The rhythm of our offense has been pretty good where there's someone starts to go down someone gets hot, so that rhythm of our offense over the course of the season has allowed our offense to be consistent and that's the sign of a good team and a growing team."
While Spezza and Michalek have stepped up, Erik Karlsson is trying to find his offensive touch. The NHL's leading scorer among defensemen has one goal and one assist in his last five games after totaling six and 11 in a seven-game scoring binge.
Buffalo (31-29-8) has shown flashes of that kind of offense in going 7-2-1 in its last 10 as it fights for the last playoff spot in the East. The Sabres, however, lost 3-1 at Boston on Thursday night - their second defeat in three games as they enter this contest just outside the East playoff picture.
Jason Pominville provided a first-period lead against the Bruins with his 25th goal, but Buffalo failed to generate any further offense.
"When you have leads, it's sticking together and not giving up much and being good with it, and it wasn't good enough," Pominville said. "It falls on us to be better and to generate more by simplifying, by getting pucks deep and skating."
The Sabres also lost fellow 20-goal scorer Thomas Vanek to an upper-body injury after a third-period check by Boston's Johnny Boychuk. Vanek didn't practice with the team in Ottawa on Friday.
Ottawa has won the last three meetings with Buffalo, taking the most recent one 3-2 in a shootout Dec. 31. Erik Condra has three of his seven goals this season in the five games versus Buffalo, while Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold has three goals and two assists in the series.
The Associated Press News Service
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