Jhonas Enroth stopped 36 shots in an unexpected start to give the Buffalo Sabres a 4-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks at First Niagara Center on Friday.
Before the puck was dropped, the Sabres traded goalie Ryan Miller and captain Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues for goalie Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, forward prospect William Carrier, a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, and a conditional third-round pick in 2016.
"It's tough for sure," Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers said of losing Miller. "Ever since I came in as a 19-year-old, he was a guy I really looked up to and has helped me through some pretty tough times. He was always a guy to lend a helping hand. Spending five years with him, you can really tell he's the ultimate professional. He was an unbelievable guy to have in the room to just learn from, especially as a younger guy."
Miller spent 12 years in the Sabres organization after he was a fifth-round pick by the team in 1999. He was 15-22-3 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .923 save percentage this season.
"I think no matter what you tell yourself, whether you know if you'll get traded or not, it's always tough leaving friends and teammates," said forward Matt Moulson, who was traded to the Sabres by the New York Islanders this season. "I think when it hits you, it's always an emotional roller coaster."
Ott was in his second season with the Sabres, his first as captain.
"I grew up with Stevie; it was a dream come true to play with him for the last year-and-a-half," defenseman Mike Weber said. "In the same breath, as a hockey player and as a brother to him, it's nice that he's going to be getting that chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. That's what we all play for, that's what we want here."
Enroth was scheduled to back up Miller but got the call to start when the trade was made.
"I was a little more nervous than usual," Enroth said. "It was kind of late notice that I got, but I just told myself to relax and go compete."
With Enroth starting, the Sabres signed Ryan Vinz, the director of technology for Buffalo's HarborCenter and former video goaltending coach at Clarkson University, to a professional tryout agreement to dress as the backup.
"I was so nervous at the start, I asked [equipment manager] Dave Williams where to go and what to do," Vinz said. "Luckily they made it fun for me and it was an awesome experience."
Buffalo, last in the NHL standings at 18-34-8, has won three in a row coming out of the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Enroth has two of those wins to give him three this season (3-12-5).
"If you don't call this a chance, I don't know what a chance is," Enroth said of possibly of becoming the Sabres' starting goalie. "I'm not going to try to put too much pressure on this moment and just try to be myself and stay professional and play the best I can. … I truly believe I can be a No. 1 guy here."
Cody Hodgson gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal at 10:59 of the first period. He held the puck in the faceoff circle to the right of Antti Niemi and fired a snap shot that surprised the Sharks goalie up high and into the net. The goal was Hodgson's 15th of the season.
It was Niemi's first start since returning from the Olympics, where he did not play for Finland. He finished with 16 saves.
"I thought I felt good the whole week, along with everything, I felt good," Niemi said. "I'm not sure why I got beat blocker side tonight."
The Sharks tied the game in the second period when James Sheppard scored his second goal of the season. He was parked in front of Enroth and took advantage of a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot that bounced off the end boards in front, where he slipped it between Enroth's legs.
Brian Flynn's sixth goal of the season gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead 4:33 into the third period. It came after center Zemgus Girgensons won a faceoff straight back to Flynn, who snapped a wrist shot to the far stick side of Niemi. It's the second consecutive game Flynn has scored.
Moulson's 17th goal of the season (11th for the Sabres) made it 3-1 at 7:39. The play started when Myers deked Sharks forward Adam Burish and drew the attention of the defense before finding Moulson alone in front of the net.
"It was a great play by [Myers], I think everybody thought he was going to shoot it," Moulson said. "He ended up making an unbelievable play and put it right on my tape and luckily it found a way in."
It was Myers' second assist of the game.
"I was holding the puck to the outside and I got him leaning just enough to pull it in and take a step by him," he said. "I thought [Moulson] did a great job of finding that quiet ice and fortunately we connected."
San Jose's Patrick Marleau made it 3-2 with 1:15 left when he beat Enroth on a net-mouth scrum. Myers scored an empty-net goal with 20.7 seconds remaining.
"It was tough. Give the guys a lot of credit, they found a way. They battled," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "Jhonas made some big saves for us, Flynn got another goal, and Tyler Myers is really starting to come into his own. I thought he was sensational tonight. Matt Moulson and Drew Stafford really took the leadership of this team."
The Sabres swept the two-game season series against the Sharks, the fourth-place team in the Western Conference. San Jose is 1-14-1 all-time in Buffalo.
"They just have our number for whatever reason," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "They play well against the Sharks, what can I say?"
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