BUFFALO, N.Y. – Todd Marchant hadn’t scored in such a long time that even Ducks coach Randy Carlyle wondered what got into his defensive forward on Tuesday night.
“I guess he must have fuelled up on chicken wings last night,” Carlyle said with a wink regarding Marchant, the Buffalo-area native who marked his homecoming with a key goal in a 3-2 win over the Sabres.
Not so fast, said a grinning Marchant. He dined on chicken parm on Monday night, but was eagerly eyeing the pizza and wings spread across the table in the Ducks locker room following the game.
“I can hardly wait to get into them,” Marchant said.
Marchant scored the go-ahead goal on a short-handed rush midway through the second period to snap a 43-game goal drought. Mike Brown added an insurance goal late in the period, while Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 34 saves to keep the Ducks in the mix of a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race.
Ales Kotalik had a goal and assist and Paul Gaustad scored for a Sabres team playing its first game without starting goaltender Ryan Miller, whose out indefinitely after spraining his left ankle in a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers last weekend.
Patrick Lalime didn’t have a strong showing in his first start since a 3-2 loss at Anaheim on Feb. 2. Lalime, who made 18 saves, dropped to 2-8-1 and hasn’t won since Dec. 13.
It didn’t help that he missed the first shot he faced 70 seconds in, when Teemu Selanne scored on a back-hander after waltzing in alone following defenceman Toni Lydman’s turnover.
“The first shot that Patty faces is a breakaway: That’s not good enough,” Sabres forward Jason Pominville said. “You want to be better with the puck.”
The Sabres, who are also without leading scorer Thomas Vanek (broken jaw), need to rebound quickly if they intend to stay in the East race. Despite the loss, Buffalo held on to the conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, a point ahead of ninth-place Carolina, which lost at Ottawa.
Giguere did his part by stopping all but one of the 27 shots he faced through the first 40 minutes.
Marchant sparked the offence by breaking a 1-1 tie midway through the second period. Driving in untouched into the Buffalo end and using teammate Chris Kunitz as a screen, he sent a snap shot past Lalime for only his third goal of the season.
“It’s been a struggling season for me offensively, but I knew it was bound to go in one of these times. And what better place?” said Marchant, who grew up a Sabres fan and had plenty of family and friends in the stands on Tuesday. “I always get a little extra geared up.”
Brown scored when he banked in a wraparound in off the skate of Gaustad
The Ducks won their second straight after opening a season-long six-game road trip with 5-2 loss at Detroit last week.
Selanne expressed confidence that Anaheim is finding its groove.
“I said earlier that this is going to be the turning point in our season and I’m expecting a lot,” Selanne said. “I have 100 per cent trust in this team and I’m sure we’re on the right track.”
The only question mark is the status of Ryan Getzlaf, who was bleeding from the nose in the dressing room after being struck across the face by Gaustad following a three-player collision in the final seconds.
Though Kotalik cut the Ducks lead to 3-2 by scoring on a one-timer with 66 seconds left, the Sabres didn’t manage another shot.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said his team needs to play better to compensate for the injured stars.
“This is the time of year that you have to step up,” Ruff said. “I don’t think we won quite enough battles. We didn’t quite get there.”
Notes: Ducks LW Travis Moen returned to Anaheim on Monday to be with his wife, who is having their first child. It’s unclear when Moen will rejoin the team, which concludes its road trip at Chicago on March 3. … The Sabres’ penalty killers went 3-for-3, ending a streak of eight games in which they allowed a power-play goal, going 14-of-24 during that stretch. … Marchant’s short-handed goal was only the fourth scored by Anaheim this season.