WASHINGTON – With a desperate wave of his stick, Ryan Miller somehow kept a point-blank shot out of the net, saving the Buffalo Sabres from matching the longest road losing streak in franchise history.
Miller reached right to deflect Mikhail Grabovski’s attempt with just over 2 minutes remaining in regulation, and then made two more saves in the shootout Sunday to give the Sabres a 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals.
“I was looking down at my papers for the next line combination, and the boys tell me I missed the save of the year,” Buffalo interim coach Ted Nolan said. “He was really good.”
Miller finished with 28 saves, Tyler Ennis scored in the first period, and Cody Hodgson had the only goal in the shootout for the Sabres, whose 11-game road skid was the second-longest in club history, behind a 12-game streak in the 2011-12 season.
“We didn’t want to make it 12 in a row. It’s already gotten too far,” Miller said. “But it’s something the guys can feel good about.”
Miller provided a big lift for Buffalo with his terrific stop after Grabovski gathered a rebound in front of the crease. As skilful as it looked, Miller said he was more lucky than anything.
“That’s one of those ones where you’re just completely out of options,” said Miller, who will represent the U.S. next month at the Sochi Olympics. “The puck came through traffic, hit me right in the pads instead of the stick, and I knew I was in trouble. I saw him kind of reload and get position, and those can certainly go wrong for you. More often than not, those guys are going to score, and I don’t think he quite got all of it.”
Jason Chimera scored in the first period, and Philipp Grubauer made 30 saves for the Capitals, who have lost five of seven, including a pair of 2-1 shootout losses to the worst-in-NHL Sabres.
NHL rules require that every game have a winner, which seemed a generous gesture in a game in which both teams played as if they were already on the Olympic break. The mascots and youngsters who played a mini-game during the first intermission generated more riveting scoring chances than the Capitals and Sabres did for long stretches of the second and third periods.
“I think the guys are a little tired,” Washington coach Adam Oates said. “I don’t think we had the energy we should.”
But Buffalo will take any win it can get. The Sabres actually put the puck in the net twice in the first period—once for themselves and once for the Capitals.
Brian Flynn, trying to stop a pass from Chimera to Marcus Johansson, got his stick on the puck and directed it past his own goalie to give Washington the early lead. Chimera was given credit for the goal.
Ennis tied it late in the period on a power play.
With 53 seconds remaining in regulation, Karl Alnzer put the puck in the net for the Capitals, but the goal didn’t count because Nicklas Backstrom had tripped Hodgson to give Alzner the clear shot. The Sabres were given a power play that carried into overtime.
The Sabres welcomed back Hodgson, who had missed eight games with a hand injury, and Ville Leino, who had been out for three games with a lower body injury. Not on the ice was prospect Mikhail Grigorenko, who is refusing to accept an assignment to the juniors.
The Sabres, who have scored by far the fewest goals scored in the league, are trying to steady themselves during a period of upheaval. Sunday’s game was the second under new general manager Tim Murphy.
“I think today was a good opportunity to reset and say we’re going to play a hard-nosed game,” Miller said, “and we did a nice job.”
NOTES: Washington D Connor Carrick got his first NHL assist on Chimera’s goal. … A blue tarp hung in the rafters at the Verizon Center, one day after a Washington Wizards NBA game was delayed twice because of a leak in the roof. There were no such weather delays Sunday.
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