SAN JOSE, Calif. – Evgeni Nabokov kept the San Jose Sharks in the game long enough for his teammates to find their legs against the speedy Buffalo Sabres.
Joe Pavelski’s second goal of the game broke a tie midway through the third period and Nabokov made 38 saves to lead the San Jose Sharks to their fifth straight victory, 5-2 over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.
“We talk about it all the time. He gives us a chance to win every night and that’s exactly what he did,” forward Manny Malhotra said. “They outshot us pretty bad. Had it not been for him, it could have been pretty lopsided early on.”
Jed Ortmeyer scored twice and Dany Heatley also had a goal for the Sharks, who won for the 16th time in 19 games despite being outshot 40-24.
Nabokov weathered an early Buffalo barrage to kept the Sharks in the game and delivered the key saves whenever San Jose needed them. Nabokov has allowed only eight goals in his past seven starts, playing his best hockey of the season with the Olympics just a couple of weeks away.
He helped kill a two-man advantage in the second period with help from a couple of shots that banged off posts. The fans started chanting “Nabby! Nabby!” after one particularly strong glove save against former teammate Craig Rivet in the third period.
Nabokov will likely start in Vancouver for the Russians next month, while Buffalo’s Ryan Miller is expected to be the No. 1 U.S. goalie. While Russia and the U.S. are in different groups, the two goalies could meet again in the medal round. Nabokov got the best of this meeting.
“We keep throwing pucks at him, kept trying to get those goals,” defenceman Toni Lydman said. “But he was playing well.”
Nabokov allowed a first-period goal to Tim Connolly and then a power-play tally to Jason Pominville 18 seconds into the third that tied the game at 2. Pominville’s backhander deflected in off Nabokov’s skate. The Sharks had killed 34 straight penalties since allowing a power-play goal to St. Louis on Jan. 6.
“The one that went between his legs on the power play, we were all on the bench saying we need to get one back for him because he kept us in the game,” Ortmeyer said. “It was important for us to go out and get a cushion for him.”
Pavelski did just that 6:41 into the third. Miller made the initial save on Devin Setoguchi’s shot, but Pavelski got to the loose puck in the crease and poked it home for his eighth career two-goal game.
Ortmeyer scored two goals in the final 10 minutes to put the game away, including an empty-netter with a minute remaining.
The Sabres have lost three games in California in five days, also losing in Anaheim on Tuesday and in a shootout to Los Angeles on Thursday. Buffalo wraps up a season-high, seven-game road trip Monday in Vancouver.
“We let the time hang around and they didn’t miss on their opportunities,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “I think we doubled up on our opportunities all night. We were disappointed that we didn’t take advantage of them and we made a couple of mistakes.”
Trailing 1-0 after one period, the Sharks were opportunistic in the second. Manny Malhotra got them started with strong forechecking. He stole a puck from Steve Montador and then fed Pavelski for the tying goal early in the second.
“We weren’t really skating or moving up to that point,” Pavelski said. “We got a quick goal and we got going after that.”
Joe Thornton then set up the go-ahead goal when he spun around in the corner and fired a backhand pass right to Heatley’s stick in front of the net. Heatley deflected the puck through Miller’s legs for his 30th goal, marking the sixth time he has reached that mark.
The Sabres dominated the first period, outshooting the Sharks 14-5 and scoring the only goal off a broken play. After Thornton turned the puck over in the defensive zone, Connolly took a pass from Pominville for his 13th goal, extending his point streak to 15 games.
NOTES: Connolly’s streak is tied for fifth longest in Buffalo history. Gilbert Perreault holds the franchise record of 18 in 1971. … Sharks D Dan Boyle missed his second straight game with an upper body injury. … Former Sharks players Rivet and Mike Grier got warm ovations when their pictures were shown on the scoreboard in the first period.