MONTREAL – Goaltender Ryan Miller called it a team win that the Buffalo Sabres needed in the midst of a nervy playoff race.
Nathan Gerbe scored two goals and Miller made 31 saves for his fourth shutout of the season as the eighth-place Sabres defeated the sixth-place Montreal Canadiens 2-0 on Tuesday night.
Buffalo played a strong positional game in all three zones and got the goal they needed on Carey Price with some hard work in the second period.
”It might have been our best chess match of the season,” said Miller. ”All three periods, we did exactly what we had to do.”
It was a third straight game with at least a point for Buffalo (36-28-9), which maintained its three-point advantage on Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The seventh-place New York Rangers also won and retained a three-point lead on Buffalo, while 10th-place Toronto remained five points back despite its win over Minnesota.
It was the Sabres’ first regulation victory in six meetings with Montreal, which took the season series 3-1-2.
”We started the game well enough but we didn’t go to the net enough to create chances,” Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. ”We gave (Miller) and easy night.
”We gave up a goal and we took too many penalties because we weren’t getting pucks in deep and spent too much time in our zone.”
The Canadiens (40-27-7) were coming off Sunday’s 8-1 win in Minnesota but couldn’t muster many good chances.
Montreal began the night one point back of Boston for the Northeast Division lead, but the Bruins won and will have a three-point bulge when they meet in Boston on Thursday night.
It will be their first meeting with the Bruins since the March 8 incident at the Bell Centre in which forward Max Pacioretty suffered a concussion and a fractured vertebra after a hit by Zdeno Chara, and their first visit to Boston since a fight-filled 8-6 loss on Feb. 9.
The Sabres were coming off a setback on Sunday when they blew a 3-1 lead and lost to Nashville in overtime.
”This was a game we needed to win,” said Miller. ”We needed to respond after our last outing and we did a good job of cleaning up the areas we needed to.
”We all did a good job of moving our feet and we drew some penalties. With (Montreal’s) small forwards, sometimes you start reaching for them and you end up in the box.”
Buffalo went 0-for-5 with the man advantage, while Montreal was 0-for-2.
A close checking and scoreless first period carried into the second until Gerbe finally broke the ice when he redirected a Tyler Myers pass in from the slot at 8:56 after some extended play in the Montreal zone.
With Price pulled for an extra attacker in the final minute, Gerbe checked the puck away from P.K. Subban at centre ice and scored into the empty net.
Gerbe has scored in three straight games and has five goals in his last five contests.
”We knew there would be bounces and we had to get to the pucks,” said the five-foot-five Gerbe. ”Both goalies have been great this year so you knew it was going to be tight.
”I was trying to dart around them and Tyler made a great play to get the puck to me.”
The Sabres, who finished with 24 shots, had most of the good chances through two periods. Travis Moen had a chance near the crease in the third but Buffalo defenceman Mike Weber kicked lying puck dangerously near the line into Miller’s pads.
Earlier Tuesday, all-time goaltending wins leader Martin Brodeur told Radio-Canada that Price was his pick to win the Vezina Trophy. The New Jersey Devils said Price’s consistent play despite a heavy workload and the wins he posted despite several injuries to Montreal’s defence made him ”the best goaltender this season.”
Notes: Injured Canadiens Tomas Plakanec, Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Darche and Brent Sopel all skated with the team Tuesday morning, but none were in the lineup. Injured defencemen Andrei Markov and Jaroslav Spacek skated earlier. … Andreas Engqvist, called up from the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL, was in the lineup. … Montreal announced the signing of defenceman Joe Stejskal, a 2007 fifth round pick, from Dartmouth College. … Buffalo was without Steve Montador, Patrick Kaleta, Jochen Hecht, Derek Roy and Patrick Lalime.