Ryan Miller made 34 saves and Jochen Hecht and Maxim Afinogenov scored to lead the Sabres to a 2-1 victory over the slumping Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night. Miller wasn’t heavily tested by sputtering Chicago, which lost its fourth straight. He lost a bid for his second shutout of the season when Denis Arkhipov scored a short-handed goal with 49.1 seconds left to play.
With Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin on the bench for an extra attacker, Arkhipov’s shot went off the right post. It then hit the pads of Miller, who had sprawled forward on the ice, and deflected across the goal-line.
“I’m saving them for later,” Miller said of the lost shutout, “but it was a little frustrating with them scoring late in the game. It was a 2-0 game and gave them life.
“They had a few opportunities, but we did a good job of making them do the things they didn’t want to do. We did play a good defensive game and played a frustrating style against them and it paid off.”
The Sabres, who lead the NHL with 166 goals, improved to 7-2-1 in their last 10 with their second straight win. They have 65 points, tied with Anaheim for the league lead.
“We had a lot of power plays in the first period and weren’t able to get a lead on any of those,” Hecht said. “But we didn’t give up any odd-man rushes and that’s what we want to do.”
Chicago is 1-6-0 in its last seven games following a 9-3-3 stretch immediately after Denis Savard took over as coach Nov. 27.
The Blackhawks are struggling offensively, especially without their top forward. Martin Havlat, who missed 19 games earlier this season with a sprained ankle, sat out his third straight game Wednesday due to a groin pull.
Chicago is 11-9-1 with Havlat in the lineup. Without him, the Blackhawks are 6-12-4
“We need more traffic in front of the goalie,” Savard said. “That’s an everyday thing we talk about. “You have to play in the tough areas. You can’t be beside the net. You’ve got to be right in front of the goalie.”
Buffalo centre Chris Drury was able to return to the game midway through the second period after hobbling off the ice early in the first.
Drury suffered what seemed like a potentially serious injury at 7:54 of the first when he was struck in the foot by a shot from teammate Jaroslav Spacek and then cross-checked by Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith.
Drury, who has 22 goals and 19 assists in 41 games, was helped off the ice by two teammates and went directly to the Sabres’ dressing room.
“It says a lot about him that he could come back and play,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “He had an X-ray and they looked negative.
“The good sign is he finished the game.”
Hecht scored the only goal of the first period, at 4:47.
Khabibulin, making his 16th straight start, stopped Jason Pominville’s shot from the slot and followed with a pad save on Hecht’s first rebound attempt from the left edge of the crease. Hecht, who was left unchecked, then jammed in a second rebound.
Afinogenov made it 2-0 at 2:56 of the third with his 20th goal. After skating down right wing, he slid a shot between Khabibulin’s pads from a sharp angle.
Miller made one of his few tough saves – point blank on Chicago’s Craig MacDonald – with just over two minutes left.
Notes: Chicago C Mikael Holmqvist was a healthy scratch . . . The Blackhawks sent G Patrick Lalime, who hasn’t played this season following surgery on a herniated disc, to Norfolk of the AHL for conditioning . . . Buffalo D Henrik Tallinder missed his third game with a sprained ankle.