SAN JOSE, Calif. – After five tension-filled months and 64 games, it’s safe to say that Ryan Miller is finally back to being Captain America.
Miller held off a 39-shot barrage to post his second-consecutive shutout and fifth of the season, and Drew Stafford’s first-period goal stood up as the game-winner, leading the Buffalo Sabres to a 1-0 blanking of the San Jose Sharks at the HP Pavilion. The win improved Buffalo to a season-high 5-0-2 in their past seven games, eclipsing the 5-0-1 run they went on from January 24-February 10. Buffalo’s last regulation loss was a 7-2 defeat in Philadelphia on February 16.
With the win, Buffalo vaulted over idle Toronto and Tampa Bay to take over 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 66 points (29-27-8). They are now four back of the Winnipeg Jets who moved into eighth spot on Thursday with a 7-0 win over the Florida Panthers. The Sabres have two games in hand on the Jets, and the two teams will face off on Monday at the MTS Centre.
The Sabres leave California with wins over Anaheim and San Jose, and Miller stopped all 82 shots he faced over the past two nights. It’s the second time in Miller’s career that he has recorded shutouts on back-to-back nights, the first coming on December 3-4, 2010, with wins over Columbus and Ottawa. The win also extended his shutout streak to an even 100 minutes, which is still more than a full game shy of his career-high shutout streak of 161:35 during that same run last December.
One night after stopping 20 third-period shots in Anaheim, Miller held off a 17-shot Sharks onslaught in the final period to preserve the victory. His biggest play came at the nine-minute mark when he used his stick to cut off TJ Galiardi’s cross-ice pass to Justin Braun during an odd-man Sharks rush.
Playing their second game in a row with an awkward west coast travel schedule, Miller knew he’d have to be on his game again tonight.
“It’s tough to play back-to-back, especially with the way we had to bus into San Jose,” said Miller. “I knew we’d probably be a little bit tired, and it was a great job by our guys to show some fight in the first period and get a lead. We had to battle from there. Again, I had my guys around me. I can make my plays, make my reads.”
The game’s only goal came at the 18:51 mark of the first period on a play that was started and finished by Stafford. He forced the hand of Brent Burns in the neutral zone, and Tyler Ennis came off the bench to pounce on the loose puck. Ennis cut hard to the right boards and dropped a pass to Stafford, who made no mistake with a blast that handcuffed Antti Niemi.
It was Stafford’s 13th goal of the season, and fourth in the past six games.
“It was a great play by Enzo getting his feet going,” Stafford said. “I was just trying to pound the puck, and I happened to find a hole.”
Not only did Stafford’s goal late in the first end up being the winner, but he stepped up – literally – in the dying seconds to save the victory when he blocked a San Jose shot with their net empty for the extra attacker.
Miller said that play was a highlight of the win for him.
“One thing that stood out at the end was, I couldn’t see who blocked it – I think it was Staff. I was focused on (Joe) Thornton and the traffic in front. (Stafford) found the open guy high, and if he’s not there to block it, he’s got a lot of net to look at.”
The Sabres got a scare late in the third period when Miller went down hard after being wiped out in his crease by teammate Patrick Kaleta, who had become tangled up with Ryan Clowe in front of the net.
“I hit my ankle into the post and it went numb for a second,” Miller explained. “So I just kinda had my fingers crossed that it wasn’t anything where I twisted it or worse. It wore off and I felt alright, just a little sore.”
Robyn Regehr left the game after the second period with a lower body injury. Lindy Ruff said he hasn’t ruled out Regehr for Saturday in Vancouver, but he “doesn’t have his hopes too high.”
1-0 BUF: Ennis pounces on the loose puck and drops to Stafford who beats Niemi with a shot from the top of the circle. (18:51)… Shots: SJ-11, BUF-10
No scoring… Shots: SJ-11, BUF-4
No scoring… Shots: SJ-17, BUF-5
SABRES NOTES: This concluded Buffalo’s 18th of a league-high sets of back to-back games. They are 11-7-0 in the first game, and 6-7-5 in the second. It was the third time this season they’ve swept both games… Cody McCormick (upper body) and Alexander Sulzer (healthy) were Buffalo’s scratches… McCormick missed his seventh games after being injured against Dallas on February 10.