BUFFALO, N.Y. – No Ryan Miller, no problem for the Buffalo Sabres.
Backup Patrick Lalime made 39 saves in just his third start of the season in favour of the workhorse Miller, and Thomas Vanek and Clarke MacArthur scored in the Sabres’ 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night.
“The goaltenders are a big part of our success this year so far, and Pat was the difference tonight, for sure,” Buffalo captain Craig Rivet said. “We’ve got huge smiles on our faces for him. He’s a well-liked guy in our dressing room, and he comes to the rink everyday and works his tail off. We’re so happy for him to get this big win.”
Lalime stopped 17 shots in the first period, and extended Buffalo’s shutout sequence to 139 minutes 51 seconds before Patrick Sharp tapped in Patrick Kane’s pass at the top of the crease 30 seconds into the third period to make it 2-1.
After playing two games for Portland of the AHL last weekend during a conditioning assignment, Lalime earned his first win of the season – and first since March 2009 – by standing strong in the third period when the Blackhawks fired nine straight shots at him to start the frame, and 16 overall.
“It feels good,” Lalime said. “When you don’t win for a while, there’s always pressure, so it’s nice to get that one out of the way. We’re one big team, and it was a great team effort.”
Vanek scored a power-play goal for Buffalo (18-9-2), which won its second straight to finish 3-2 on a five-game homestand.
“It was an up-and-down game,” MacArthur said. “They put the pressure on in the third and were pinching, and they’re a tough team to defend when they’re all going like that. But I thought at the 10-minute mark we settled down and started playing our game.”
Lalime, playing for the first time since Nov. 21, made several sparkling saves in the opening period, including a kick save on Brent Seabrook’s one-timer from the left circle. Lalime also denied Marian Hossa’s partial breakaway attempt in the second.
Buffalo’s backup came in with a bloated 4.54 goals-against average.
“I thought he handled the whole game well,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “Ryan needs his time to stay fresh and sharp, so we need (Lalime) to win games for us and play well.”
Cristobal Huet made 31 saves for the Blackhawks (19-8-3), who continue to struggle offensively. Chicago has scored just 11 times in its last seven games despite going 3-3-1 during that span.
“I don’t think you can be concerned with the team we have,” Kane said. “It might be a little funk. We’re trying to get used to different lines and different things. It’s tough when you come up short.”
After a scoreless first period, Vanek opened the scoring with his ninth of the season. After Huet blocked Tim Connolly’s shot, Vanek was able to kick a loose puck to his stick in front of the net before spinning around and whipping it in to make it 1-0.
MacArthur pushed Buffalo’s lead to 2-0 with his ninth with 1:21 to go in the second. From the low slot near the bottom of the right circle, MacArthur swatted in Tim Kennedy’s cross-ice pass.
“We’re not happy with our production,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’re winning some tight games, but we should be scoring more. The offence will be there, it’s just a matter of maybe moving (players) around so that it clicks.”
NOTES: Miller blanked Washington 3-0 on Wednesday night. … Huet played in his 17th game against the Sabres, the most against any opponent in his career. … Buffalo RW Mike Grier missed his third game after his mother passed away. D Chris Butler missed his fourth game because of an ankle injury. … Lalime played two seasons in Chicago, starting in 2006. … Chicago hasn’t won in Buffalo since December 2001. … The Blackhawks dropped to 5-1-1 against Eastern Conference teams. … Sharp scored his 100th goal with Chicago.