TORONTO – Derek Roy was quick to give an assist on his overtime goal to Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller.
Miller made 34 saves, many of the sparkling variety, before Roy scored 3:35 into overtime as Buffalo beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on Monday.
“Ryan’s our rock out there, he made some huge saves and we finally got our act together in the third period,” Roy said after the Sabres came back from a 2-1 deficit.
The Sabres, backstopped by their franchise goalie, have surrendered two or fewer goals in 13 of their past 15 games. They only allowed three goals in the other two outings.
“It was a hard-fought game tonight,” said Miller, who had to deal with crease-crashing Leafs players throughout the game. “We came back and played a tight third period. Even though we only had a couple of chances, we made one count and we got to overtime.”
The winning goal was the prettiest of the evening – to the chagrin of the 19,235 vocal fans in attendance. After an offensive-zone faceoff, Buffalo defenceman Steve Montador won a battle along the boards and chipped the puck to Jochen Hecht in the far corner. Hecht centred it to Roy in front, who deked and then went to his backhand to beat Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson.
“Montador made a great play and Hecht made a great pass,” Roy said. “I just waited for a half-second for (Gustavsson) to make a move, and then I went upstairs.”
Hecht also scored for Buffalo – just his fifth of the season – at 12:59 of the third period to tie the game at 2-2. Nathan Paetsch, with his first goal of the campaign, opened the scoring in the first period, while Montador added two assists.
“I’m happy when anybody scores,” said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, “whether it’s Hecht or anyone elseaI’m just happy.
“There weren’t a lot of pretty goals tonightaDerek’s was pretty, but that was about it.”
The win was the sixth in eight games for the Northeast Division-leading Sabres, who improved to 22-10-3 on the season.
“We’ve improved this year,” said Miller, “we’ve been in some tight games and been able to come through.”
Rookie left-winger Viktor Stalberg, with his second goal in three games since being recalled from the American Hockey League, and Ian White replied for Toronto, which recorded its third loss in four outings to fall to 13-16-8 on the season.
“Toronto was throwing the puck around, going back door and crashing the net hard,” Roy said. “They were doing all the things they had to do. I thought they played well.”
As usual, though, Miller played better. The win was the ninth for the Sabres goalie in his past 10 games against the Leafs.
Miller, who leads the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage and is the leading candidate to be the United States’ starting goalie at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, stopped every puck he saw. Both Stalberg’s and White’s goals came on net-crashing deflections.
“They were driving hard to the net, and that’s what happens sometimes,” Miller said. “They did a good job of creating traffic and coming at me hard tonight. I sort of figured that it was coming, especially after they knocked me over a few times in the first few minutes.”
At the other end, Gustavsson – coming off the first shutout of his career in a 2-0 win over Boston on Saturday – stopped 27 of 30 shots.
The Sabres led 1-0 after a frantic first period in which both teams fired 13 shots and had several good scoring chances. Gustavsson made a nice save on Buffalo left winger Clarke MacArthur in the early going, while Miller denied Leafs right winger Lee Stempniak on a short-handed breakaway in the later stages of the opening frame.
Stalberg and White scored mirror-image goals in the second period to give Toronto a 2-1 edge heading into the final frame, but the Leafs couldn’t fend off the Sabres – or get another puck past Miller.
Hecht drew the Sabres even at 12:59 of the third period when he collected a loose puck in the slot and lifted a backhander over Gustavsson to make it 2-2 and set the stage for overtime.
Paetsch, a depth player for the Sabres skating in just his eight game of the season, opened the scoring at 6:11 of the first period. Buffalo left winger Matt Ellis won a battle along the boards and slid the puck to Paetsch, who swept a low wrist shot that beat Gustavsson through the legs. The goal, which was one the Leafs goalie should’ve stopped, was Paetsch’s first since Feb. 6, 2009, and just his seventh in 154 career NHL games.
Notes: Buffalo was 0-for-1 on the power play, while Toronto didn’t have a single man advantageaBuffalo left winger and leading goal-scorer Thomas Vanek sat out a second consecutive game nursing an abdominal injuryaIt was a busy Monday night on the NHL schedule with 11 games, and 14 of the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference were active. Only Washington had the night offaToronto travels to Long Island to face the New York Islanders on Wednesday night and then is off until the Montreal Canadiens visit on Boxing DayaBuffalo is on the road in Washington on Wednesday.