BUFFALO, N.Y. – Ville Leino was happy to bask in some rare cheers after netting the winning goal in the shootout.
“Today was awesome,” Leino said after scoring in the ninth round of the shootout to give the Buffalo Sabres a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.
“Obviously we haven’t been winning that much, so it’s tough times but those kind of moments, you get a little extra energy.”
Leino had not scored a goal in regulation all season and has been the subject of catcalls in Buffalo, but drew a roar of approval with his shootout tally.
When asked why he tabbed Leino to shoot, Buffalo coach Ted Nolan cited necessity as the reason he used the slumping forward.
“He played a real good game for us tonight, and we were running out of forwards,” Nolan said. “He’s had a tough, tough go, but he’s a real good player and I was glad to see him get one.”
Tyler Ennis scored twice in the third period and again in the shootout, while Nathan Lieuwen made 33 saves for his first NHL win.
Dainius Zubrus gave New Jersey a 1-0 lead at 8:16 of the second period and Tuomo Ruutu tipped Andy Greene’s shot past Lieuwen at 6:58 of the third to tie it 2-2.
The Devils, 0-11 this season in shootouts, are three points out of the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot.
“We had a bunch of chances to score and we have guys who are good in the shootout,” Zubrus said. “Tough to say it’s luck because it’s been 11 games in a row, but maybe a bit of bad luck has to be there.”
Cory Schneider made 25 saves for New Jersey.
The Devils outshot Buffalo 10-8 in the opening period, but dominated possession and had the best chances.
New Jersey broke the deadlock in the second, when Michael Ryder’s cross-crease pass appeared to be knocked into the Sabres goal by Jamie McBain. The goal was awarded to Zubrus.
Lieuwen returned to form after the goal, making a diving stick save on Ryder to keep the score 1-0. Moments later, he stopped Ruutu on a partial breakaway.
“The one word that Teddy keeps using is compete,” Lieuwen said. “I just went out there and competed. Good things happened.”
The Sabres managed just four shots in the second period.
Buffalo got the equalizer 1:39 into the third period on a play started by Drew Stafford and completed by a cross-slot pass from Leino to Ennis, who scored on a wrist shot to become the first Sabres player to score 20 goals this season.
“He’s a dynamic player,” Nolan said. “He scoots in and out, and for him to get that 20, it’s a magical number he was waiting on for a while.”
Buffalo took its first lead of the night on a power play just over three minutes later. Cody Hodgson slid a pass through several players to Ennis, who shot high into the net at 4:41.
“He made a pretty ridiculous pass through two or three guys right on my tape,” Ennis said. “I just had to throw it on the net.”
New Jersey tied the score on the power play, when Ruutu deflected Greene’s shot past Lieuwen.
Lieuwen made back-to-back stops on Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias with just over a minute left in overtime.
He then had a chance to win the game after Stafford scored in the fourth round of the shootout.
“I had a ‘Welcome to the NHL’ moment when Jagr came down on me with a chance to win the game and I think I was a little too excited about what was happening,” Lieuwen said.
But after Leino scored, Lieuwen rebounded to pick up that first win with a stop on Mike Sislo that he doesn’t quite remember.
“I blacked out,” Lieuwen said. “The guy came in and as soon as I made that save, I was just all smiles. I was excited and I’m very grateful.”
Buffalo snapped a four-game skid with the win, while the Devils now have points in five consecutive games.
NOTES: Stafford was selected as the Sabres’ Masterton Trophy nominee by the Buffalo Chapter of the Pro Hockey Writers Association earlier Tuesday. … New Jersey LW Ryan Clowe missed the game with a head injury sustained Monday against Florida. … Buffalo signed 2012 third-round pick Justin Kea to a three-year, entry level contract before the game.