If the Buffalo Sabres are going to make a late season run to a playoff spot, Ryan Miller is going to have to be the reason they continue to climb the standings.
So far, so good.
Miller made 30 saves, including several of the highlight reel variety, to backstop the Sabres to a 2-1 defeat of the New York Islanders on Tuesday. The win gives Buffalo five of their last six points (2-0-1), and improved their record to 26-27-7. The Sabres now have 59 points, and moved from 14th to 12th in the Eastern Conference, six points behind eighth-place Toronto.
Derek Roy and Jason Pominville each had a pair of assists for their second multi-point efforts in a row, while Tyler Myers and Thomas Vanek scored for the Sabres.
Miller is now 18-17-4 on the season, but upped his record to 6-2-2 over his last 10 starts. His consistent performances over the last month have been the backbone of the team’s improved play.
“It’s been coming around for a little while here, and I do feel a little bit better about my game. There’s a big build-up here towards the end of the season and I want to be as sharp as I can and gather as many wins as possible. Just trying to stay really calm and collected and watch the game. A big help has been the guys are coming through the middle a lot more. I’m getting pretty good reads on the play and when I have one-on-ones with the guys, I can focus on challenging that and it all kind of blends together.”
With the Sabres ahead 2-0 in the second period, not only did Miller stop Brian Rolston on a breakaway, but he recovered in time to stop Josh Bailey on the rebound.
“I just wanted to hang with Rolston. Coming in from that side, I wasn’t thinking he had much of an option for a shot the way the chase was going and I thought maybe he’d try something cute. He kind of did, he tried to go five-hole and had time to reload before Bailey got involved behind the play. We had a little pressure on him too so he couldn’t just pick it up and move around me. I kind of saw that develop and knew I had to get as big as I could.”
With time ticking down late in the third after Frans Nielsen got the Isles within one goal, Miller rose to the occasion yet again when he dove across the crease to deny Matt Moulson’s game-tying effort.
“After that goal, I needed to shut the door there. I just happened to be there and tried to seal as much ice as I could, knowing they’re going to get to the net. He made some quick plays and I’m happy he didn’t get it up as he wanted, for sure, and I could seal that puck.”
For Lindy Ruff, it was just another example of how important Miller has to be for the Sabres over the next six weeks.
“You’re going to need big saves inside of every game. It’s not going to be a clean game. I thought it got a little bit loose after we lost (Robyn Regehr) for that period of time. The breakaway, we got caught changing, got in behind us and that was back-to-back great saves. The great saves like that usually lead to victories for you.”
The Sabres are 7-1-0 this season – and 37-13-3 since the lockout – when playing a team on the second of back-to-back games, after the Sabres had the previous day off.
Buffalo doesn’t return to action until Friday when they host Boston at First Niagara Center at 7:30 p.m., followed by their first trip of the season to Madison Square Garden on Saturday to face the New York Rangers.
1-0 BUF: Tyler Myers finishes off a mad scramble in front by jumping into the play and chipping the puck past Poulin. (1:21) … Shots: NYI-14, BUF-13
2-0: After working the puck behind the net, Roy finds Vanek in the slot, and he fires home his 22nd of the season (3:41)… Shots: BUF-15, NYI-6
2-1: Nielsen beats Miller with a howitzer from the left faceoff dot (14:52)… Shots: NYI-11, BUF-9
SABRES NOTES: After playing just 6:50 in 10 shifts in the first period, Robyn Regehr left the game with an upper body injury. Ruff categorized him as “day-to-day.”… Cody McCormick (upper body) and Marc-Andre Gragnani (healthy) were Buffalo’s scratches… McCormick has now missed six games, and has not practiced since being injured against Dallas on February 10.