UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Less than 48 hours after Ryan Miller stormed off the ice following a quick hook from coach Lindy Ruff, the Buffalo Sabres’ workhorse goalie finally enjoyed a win over the New York Islanders.
Nathan Gerbe snapped a tie early in the third period with a power-play goal, and the Sabres salvaged a split of the home-and-home series by beating the Islanders 5-3 on Sunday.
New York, second to last in the Eastern Conference, had won in Buffalo 5-2 on Friday night and knocked off the playoff-contending Sabres 5-3 on Long Island in the first meeting Jan. 15.
The Sabres took a 1-0 lead 15 seconds in on Paul Gaustad’s goal and then scored three times in the third period to break open a 2-2 game.
“We knew it was going to be a tight game,” Ruff said. “We came out well and then they took over the game for a little bit. Then I thought we bounced back and had a strong third period.”
Drama and intrigue surrounded the Islanders one day after they claimed veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings. The Sabres have no such issues in net with Miller, who made his 25th straight start.
The Sabres had a lively third period for the second straight game—and had something to show for this one. Gerbe scored both Buffalo goals five seconds apart in the third during Friday’s loss, then finished a fine passing play to net the winner 1:48 into the final period Sunday. Tyler Myers sent the puck from the right point to the right circle to Tyler Ennis, who made a backhanded pass behind him to Gerbe.
Buffalo took advantage of a double high-sticking call against Josh Bailey, who clipped Gaustad late in the second period. The Sabres had killed off a four-minute penalty on Jochen Hecht earlier in the frame.
“It was an important step,” Miller said. “They had a good second period against us, but the high-sticking calls became pretty important. We killed ours and we needed to do something in the time we were given for Paul taking the stick.”
Myers pushed the Sabres’ edge to 4-2 at 3:53, nudging the puck past Rick DiPietro. The goal was confirmed by a video review.
“I don’t know (what happened),” DiPietro said. “I came over to make the first stop on Myers and when I looked back I think it was behind me. Would’ve been nice to cover the goal-line a little bit.”
Gaustad and Ennis had staked Buffalo to one-goal leads in each of the first two periods. Miller, who was pulled from Friday’s loss after allowing two goals in 11 minutes, bounced back with a 31-save effort.
“I got the feeling that wasn’t about me,” Miller said. “It was just a couple of tough bounces to start the game. I wanted to just re-establish my game.
“It felt good to battle through the second period when they had some man-advantages and some good looks, and set the stage for the guys to go out and have a great third period.”
Buffalo has won three of four and four of six, with the only losses in that span to the Islanders. Jason Pominville scored an empty-net goal with 23.7 seconds remaining for the final margin.
Matt Moulson scored two tying goals in the second period, and defenceman Jack Hillen brought New York within 4-3 with 3:23 remaining, but the Islanders fell to 3-6-1 in their last 10. New York is 1-4-1 in its last six home games.
“A loss is a loss. It’s tough to take anything positive out of it,” DiPietro said. “It’s not the way you want to do things at home.”
The Islanders were glad to have DiPietro back after his bout with the flu that came on the heels of a groin injury and lingering trouble with his surgically repaired knee that forced him to miss 13-of-17 games.
DiPietro made 18 saves. But with his health unreliable, along with a knee injury to backup Nathan Lawson and the inexperience of 20-year-old Kevin Poulin, the Islanders were prompted to claim the 35-year-old Nabokov off waivers. Nabokov had his heart set on joining the Stanley Cup-contending Red Wings and has so far decided not to report to the Islanders, who are way out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Gaustad gave the Sabres the very early lead when he put in a rebound in front of DiPietro, and the Islanders tied it on Moulson’s power-play goal at 1:15 of the second.
Ennis put the Sabres back in front at 4:58, but Moulson struck again with 6:33 left in the second when he scored off a rebound of P.A. Parenteau’s tip-in attempt off a pass from John Tavares.
“P.A. is starting to fit nicely,” Tavares said of the line. “We’re starting to get along really well with him. We think the game the same, and we read off each other.”
Notes: Sabres LW Thomas Vanek played only 13 minutes, and Ruff said the forward has been feeling the effects of an undisclosed upper body injury for a while. … Lawson has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee and is expected to be out one to two weeks. … Gerbe has scored four of his six goals in the past three games. … Fans were admonished by the public-address announcer not to throw objects onto the ice after brief delays in the second and third periods.