Cody Hodgson couldn’t have picked a better time to regain his scoring touch.
Hodgson scored his first two goals as a Sabre, and Ryan Miller earned his career-high sixth shutout of the season, as Buffalo blanked the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 at First Niagara Center before another sold-out crowd of 18,690.
The Sabres improved to 35-29-10 on the season, and are now tied in points with eighth-place Washington at 80. However, the Capitals maintain their hold on the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference based on the first tiebreaker. Washington has 35 regulation and overtime wins (ROW), while the Sabres have 28.
Miler understands the significance of catching the Capitals in points, but knows there’s still plenty of work left to be done if the Sabres want to get an invite to the playoff party in April.
“It’s a stop along the way is how I’m trying to look at it,” said Miller. “It’s just one big hockey game at this point that we’ve gotta win. It’s a good stop along the way. I thought there were some good things from the game tonight. When we settled in during the second and third period, I thought it was more our game; the kind of hockey we need to play.”
The Sabres are now 11-2-4 since February 17, and their 27 points are second only to Pittsburgh’s 27 (13-1-1) during this stretch.
“We’ve put together a good run to get where we’re at,” said head coach Lindy Ruff. “We know there’s a tough schedule ahead of us but it’s rewarding to get as close as we’ve gotten right now.”
One game after recording his first two points since being acquired from Vancouver, Hodgson started the scoring at 6:15 of the opening period with his first goal as a Sabre, on a solo rush through the Montreal zone that culminated with a wraparound that banked in off Montreal netminder Carey Price. He followed that up with an insurance goal in the third period, one-timing a nifty backhand pass from Derek Roy on the power play at 12:45.
Hodgson hadn’t scored in 13 games, dating back to February 23 in Detroit when he was a member of the Canucks. Four days he later he was dealt to Buffalo for Zack Kassian, but he’d been held goalless in his first 11 games in the blue and gold.
The first goal wasn’t exactly a thing beauty, and Hodgson knows those are the ones that can often get a goal scorer back on track.
“Sometimes you’ve gotta get lucky,” he said with a smile. “It’s like I’ve been saying all along, sometimes you need to get a bounce here or there. I thought tonight our whole line played well. There were lots of scoring chances, and we didn’t give too much up. And when we did, Millsy was there to shut the door.”
Ruff said he had a feeling after Monday’s game that Hodgson was ready to break out.
“Well, I said after the game in Tampa that getting a couple assists was going to be a boost for him. You know, you feel good about that and I thought tonight he probably could’ve had four or five points. He made three or four great plays, scored a couple of goals, set Van up on a couple opportunities. Anytime you can get a little bit of that pressure relieved, you know you talk about some of our guys getting on the board, it helps.”
Miller stopped 34 Montreal shots in the shutout, with his biggest save of the night coming late in the final period when he used his right pad to deny Mike Blunden on the doorstep with just over five minutes remaining on the clock. It was the 28th shutout of Miller’s career, improving his standing as second all-time in franchise history behind Dominik Hasek’s 55.
Jason Pominville gave the Sabres a two-goal advantage early in the second with his 28th of the season at 2:31. Price made the initial stop on Andrej Sekera’s point shot, but it kicked into the slot and Pominville was quick to jump in and fire the loose puck into the open net. The 28 goals are the second-most of Pominville’s career, trailing only the 34 he scored in 2006-07.
Buffalo’s next game is Friday in New York when the face the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in a 7 p.m. faceoff.
1-0 BUF: Hodgson scores on the wraparound after a great solo effort through the Montreal zone. (6:15)… Shots: MTL-15, BUF-10
2-0 BUF: Sekera's point shot kicks to the right, and Pominville swoops in to bury the rebound. (2:31)… Shots: MTL-7, BUF-11
3-0 BUF: Hodgson one-times Roy's backhand pass for his second of the night. (12:45)… Shots: MTL-12, BUF-10
SABRES NOTES: Buffalo finished the season 5-0-1 against Montreal… Derek Roy’s third period assist was the 265th of his career, surpassing Mike Foligno for ninth all-time in franchise history… Christian Ehrhoff recorded his 200th career assist on Hodgson’s first period goal… Hodgson becomes the 28th different goal scorer for Buffalo this season, second-most in the league to Columbus’ 30. The Sabres franchise record is 30 (1986-87, 1987-88, 1991-92)… Mike Weber (healthy), Patrick Kaleta (upper body), Nathan Gerbe (upper body) and Matt Ellis (knee) were Buffalo’s scratches... Travis Turnbull played his first NHL game tonight, recording a team-high three hits in 6:14 of ice time.