BUFFALO, N.Y. – Ryan Miller got the Buffalo Sabres this far in putting them in playoff contention. To stay in the race, they’re going to have to do it without the star goalie.
Miller is out indefinitely after sustaining a high left ankle sprain in the third period of Buffalo’s 4-2 win over the reeling New York Rangers on Saturday night. The injury, which occurred when Miller was upended behind his own net by New York’s Scott Gomez, tempered any celebration in the locker room.
“It’s a tough blow for us,” said Derek Roy, who led the Sabres with a goal and two assists.
Miller said tests taken following the game were negative, but he’s not sure how much time he’ll miss.
“These are kind of things you have to feel out. There’s really no timetable,” said Miller, who stopped all 20 shots he faced. “It’s really your comfort level. Right now I want to get through the night and into the morning to see how my body reacts.”
The Sabres will have to see how they react without their stalwart. Miller registered the win – improving to 29-16-5 – against the Rangers, which moved Buffalo into a three-way tie with the Rangers and Florida for the Eastern Conference’s three final playoff spots. All three teams have 68 points, three ahead of Carolina.
Sabres backup Patrick Lalime, who allowed both goals on 13 shots against New York, will take over while Miller’s out.
“Patty’s a good goalie. We’ll get him up and running. Whatever length of time, we need to play in front of Patty,” coach Lindy Ruff said.
Daniel Paille, Andrej Sekera and Jochen Hecht also scored for Buffalo in a game the Sabres took control by building a 3-0 lead 14 minutes into the second period.
Markus Naslund and Nigel Dawes scored for the Rangers, who have big concerns of their own.
The Rangers dropped to 2-7-2 in their past 11 games, and are winless in their past eight on the road (0-7-1) since a 3-2 overtime win at Chicago on Jan. 16. New York has been outscored 31-8 during its road slump, raising questions about coach Tom Renney’s job security.
“We have to collectively get our heads around what it takes to win a hockey game. We’re in a very desperate situation,” Renney said. “Maybe we’re scared enough now to go out and play hard.”
Something’s got to give for a team that was outshot 13-7 in the first period, and held without a shot during an 11-minute stretch spanning the end of the first period and start of the second.
“We have to be better than this,” Naslund said. “It’s up to us if we’re going to make the playoffs. A game like this was crucial.”
The Sabres survived by overcoming the shock of losing Miller, who had difficulty putting any weight on his left foot as he left the game 1:54 into the third period.
Miller was hurt as he was trying to play the puck behind his net during a Rangers’ power play. With his back to the play, Miller was upended when Rangers forward Scott Gomez crashed into the goalie’s right leg, sending Miller tumbling into the boards.
Having difficulty standing up, Miller crawled back into his crease on his pads before play was stopped.
Gomez wasn’t called for a penalty on the play. Seconds later, he set up Naslund, who cut Buffalo’s lead to 3-1.
Hecht put the game away by regaining the Sabres three-goal edge by scoring on a nifty backhander with 8:07 left.
Ruff was unhappy with the hit, accusing Gomez of deliberately crashing into Miller.
“I don’t think there’s any secret it was deliberate,” Ruff said. “He knew what he was doing.”
Gomez called the hit as unfortunate, saying he lost his balance.
“I stopped and kind of lost my balance and we ran into each other,” Gomez said. “I don’t know what happened.”
Notes: Sabres D Henrik Tallinder returned after missing 12 games with a shoulder injury. That left D Teppo Numminen the odd-man out, missing the game as a healthy scratch. … The Rangers’ road winless streak is the longest since 2000-01, when they went 0-10-2. … Rangers LW Lauri Korpikoski returned after missing one game with an upper body injury. … The Rangers gave up their first power-play goal in six games when Roy scored in the second period.