BUFFALO, N.Y. – Josh Harding didn’t have to wait long for a second chance.
A day after giving up five goals in a loss at Detroit, Harding made 43 saves to give the Minnesota Wild a rare road victory, 3-2 over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday.
Playing for the second straight night for the injured Niklas Backstrom, Harding fell one stop short of his career-best 44 saves set in February 2009 at Chicago.
“I didn’t play in a month before that game in Detroit, so I knew I was going to be a little shaky. But I didn’t expect to be that shaky,” Harding said. “So I had to forget about the past and look forward to the future.”
That future was certainly bright against a Buffalo team that came in on a three-game winning streak. He allowed both Buffalo goals in the third period – including Thomas Vanek’s tally with 1:58 left in regulation while the Sabres had an extra attacker on the ice – on 18 shots, and preserved the win with a dazzling stick save on Derek Roy’s point-blank shot with just over 30 seconds to go.
“He was very steady back there, and a steady influence on our team,” Wild forward Andrew Brunette said. “He was square to the puck all night, and I thought he played real well.”
Vanek spoiled Harding’s shutout bid 3:42 into the third period, but agreed that the Wild backup goalie was the difference.
“He played well,” Vanek said. “You’ve got to give him credit, but at the same time we didn’t shoot it enough, myself included, early on. We went for the easy back-door plays instead of just putting it on net.”
Minnesota entered with the second-worst road record in the NHL, but got off to a great start by scoring twice on its first 10 shots against Sabres backup Patrick Lalime.
Andrew Ebbett and Guillaume Latendresse staked the Wild to a 2-0 lead just 10 minutes into the game, giving the Wild the confidence they needed to help kill all but one of the Sabres’ six power-play opportunities.
“They’re a good team and they generated a lot on their power plays, but the guys really came together and found a way to win the game,” Minnesota coach Todd Richards said.
Brunette also scored for the Wild, who snapped a snapped a four-game winless streak with their fourth straight victory in Buffalo.
Harding, meanwhile, has won both of his lifetime starts against the Sabres, allowing just three goals combined in those two games.
Lalime, starting in place of Ryan Miller, made 30 saves for the Sabres (36-21-9), who begin a five-game trip Saturday in Detroit. The Sabres remained two points ahead of idle Ottawa for the Northeast Division lead.
Lalime felt the wrath of the Sabres’ fans after his sluggish start, as the hometown crowd mockingly cheered everytime Lalime made a save after allowing the two quick first-period goals.
“It felt like I was on the road,” he said. “You just want to shake it off.”
The Wild struck first when Ebbett’s soft wrister from the left circle eluded Lalime along the ice just three minutes in.
Latendresse made it 2-0 with his team-leading 24th of the season midway through the first. After picking off Lalime’s clearing attempt from behind the net, Latendresse skated above the goal line and slipped the puck in before Lalime could recover.
Brunette made it 3-0 with his 19th with 1:25 to go in the second period. Antti Miettinen lugged the puck down the right wing and into the right circle before lifting a pass to the front of the net, where Brunette was able to whack it in out of the air.
Vanek, a former University of Minnesota star, easily tapped in Derek Roy’s cross-ice pass from the right circle to make it 3-1 early in the third, and cut it to 3-2 with 1:58 left with his team-leading 22nd of the season after Lalime was pulled for an extra attacker.
NOTES: G Wade Dubielewicz was recalled earlier in the day on an emergency basis to replace Backstrom, who’s day-to-day after injuring his groin Thursday morning in Detroit. … It was the first meeting between the teams in Buffalo since March 2007. … The Sabres are 10-5-2 against the Western Conference. … The Wild were without D Brent Burns (hip) and D Shane Hnidy (leg) for the second straight game. … Harding had an assist on Ebbett’s goal. … Lalime, still in search of his 200th career NHL win, is 3-5-2 this season. … Minnesota is 3-8-1 in its last 12 road games.