Despite their recent struggles, linemates Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville made a strong case to head coach Lindy Ruff to keep them together on the ice with their performance Wednesday night.
The trio chipped in two power play goals – including the overtime winner – as the Buffalo Sabres powered ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2, in front of a sell-out crowd at First Niagara Center.
On a power play that carried into overtime from the third period, the Sabres set up in the Hurricanes zone for the game-winning goal from Pominville. Christian Ehrhoff had the puck at the point in the middle of the ice with Vanek screening Carolina goalie Cam Ward. Ehrhoff hesitated on shooting for a moment before passing it off to his left. Pominville one-timed the puck past Ward 56 seconds into the extra period to give Buffalo their fourth win in five games.
“We got set up and I think Hoffer tried to shoot and they were able to get it out and then he skated in and kind of faked it. I just tried to get it on net and it found a hole,” Pominville said. “I think that’s part of the reason why lately our power play hasn’t generated as many opportunities as we want is not getting enough pucks on net, especially with Van in front.”
The goal marked Buffalo’s third overtime goal of the season. Pominville has been in on all three of Buffalo’s overtime winners this season, but had been held scoreless in his six previous games. With a goal and an assist on Wednesday, he hasn’t gone two home games without a point since Feb. 25 and Feb. 26, 2011.
Ruff said that the decision to keep the Roy line together had a lot to do with how well the other three lines have been playing.
“We spent hours changing lines and putting different numbers together,” Ruff said. “I just felt I liked what some of the other lines had done and thought, ‘Let’s let them battle through it.’ I even said to Derek this morning, ‘What do you want to do with your line?’ And he said, ‘Let’s work it out.’ So I thought that was a good sign, too.”
To get to overtime, the Sabres had to kill off a pair of penalties in the third. With 13:31 left in regulation and Drew Stafford already in the box for holding, Derek Roy received a minor for hooking. The Sabres successfully killed off the 40-second five-on-3 and the penalty to Roy. They even had a shorthanded scoring opportunity as Stafford threw a pass out from behind to Matt Ellis but they couldn’t covert.
“Great job by the guys. I don’t think they really even got anything through,” said goaltender Ryan Miller. “It’s something where we know where we need to be on the ice. We know what their looks are kind of going to be and we did a great job getting our bodies in the way.”
Miller made 22 saves to earn his 23rd win of the season. The NHL's reigning First Star of the week has started the Sabres’ last 10 games and appeared in 21 straight. Ruff said the lighter workload on Wednesday wouldn’t affect the scheduling plan he has set up. However, he did not say who would be starting in Boston on Thursday.
“I learned a long time ago never to tell your coach you’re not ready,” Miller said. “That’s not a good thing to establish. [When he] taps you on the shoulder, you’re ready, you play unless you’re hurt.”
With the win and a Toronto loss to Pittsburgh, the Sabres now sit in 10th place, two points behind eighth-place Winnipeg. Buffalo is 7-1-2 in its last 10 games.
Carolina opened the scoring at the 2:47 mark of the first period. Jussi Jokinen won a face off to the right of Miller and the puck went back to Jamie McBain who slid the puck over to Jaroslav Spacek for a one-timer. The shot beat Miller to give the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead.
Tyler Myers got the Sabres on the board 22 seconds into the second period. On a four-man rush down the right wing with Ville Leino, Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Kaleta, the lanky defenseman ripped a slap shot on net. Ward knocked it away, but the rebound hit defenseman Justin Faulk and bounced into the net as Kaleta drove to the crease behind him.
The Sabres took the lead on the power play thanks to Vanek’s 23rd goal of the season. Ehrhoff rocketed a shot towards the net that Vanek knocked down as he screened Ward. Vanek then turned around to face Ward and shot the puck into the cage. He leads the team with 10 power play goals this year.
With 14:49 to play in the period, Carolina tied the game off of Chad LaRose’s leg. As LaRose crashed the net, Skinner threw a pass in front from the right of Miller. The puck went in off LaRose and the goal was confirmed upon review. The shot was Carolina’s second of the period.
Buffalo had a few chances to take the lead back that rang off the iron. Derek Roy hit the crossbar about a minute after LaRose’s goal, and Alexander Sulzer cranked one off the post to Ward’s left about two minutes later.
The Sabres outshot the Hurricanes, 42-24, in the game.
1-0 CAR: Jokinen wins a face off to Miller’s right, McBain passes it across the blue line to Spacek who rips a low one-timer past Miller (2:47)… Nathan Gerbe was tripped by Harrison while on a rush to the net 8:30 into the period. The officials decided to award the Sabres a power play rather than a penalty shot. SOG: BUF-8 CAR-9
1-1: Just 22 seconds into the period, Myers fires a shot from the right wing board that Ward saves, but the rebound goes in off his defenseman Faulk... 2-1 BUF: Vanek puts the Sabres ahead 40 seconds later on the power play. He knocks down an Ehrhoff shot from the point and then turns around to put it in behind Ward (1:02)... 2-2: LaRose crashes the net and deflects a Skinner pass off his leg and in (5:11)... SOG: BUF-25 CAR-17
No scoring... SOG: BUF-40 CAR-24
3-2 BUF: Pominville takes the feed from Ehrhoff and rips the game winner past Ward from the top of the circle. (:56)... SOG: BUF-42 CAR-24
SABRES NOTES: Defenseman Andrej Sekera was a late scratch with flu-like symptoms. Sulzer took his place in the lineup and skated 14:06 and blocked three shots… Forward Cody McCormick missed his 13th straight game with an upper body injury.