NEWARK, N.J. – In his 1,000th game as Buffalo’s coach, Lindy Ruff got a win, courtesy of an unbelievable shootout flub by New Jersey’s US$100 million man.
Ilya Kovalchuk lost control of the puck about 20 feet from goalie Jhonas Enroth on the final attempt and the Sabres posted a 5-4 victory over the reeling Devils on Wednesday night.
“I would have rather have won it in regulation,” Ruff said after becoming the 18th NHL coach to reach 1,000 games, and the third to do it with one team. “We took it to the limit. Jhonas made some big saves in the shootout.”
The one that Enroth did not have to make made the game memorable.
After Derek Roy beat Devils goalie Johan Hedberg with a backhander to put the Sabres ahead 2-1 in the fourth round of the shootout, Kovalchuk had a chance to force a fifth round.
The Russian, who has scored just three goals since signing his 15-year contract, quickly skated into the Sabres’ end and just as quickly had the puck slide off his stick. As the crowd booed, Kovalchuk slumped in disgust, then skated off the ice as Buffalo players mobbed Enroth following his second straight shootout win.
“I tried something. Didn’t work out,” said Kovalchuk, who also had a great chance in the overtime but shot the puck about 10 feet over the goal.
Enroth wasn’t surprised Kovalchuk had problems handling the puck, coming up from centre ice.
“When you come up on it out of the area like that, the puck is going to jump on you,” Enroth said. “I saw he kept his head down. I thought I had a good read on it. It was a tough break for him.”
The Devils are 0-5-2 at home.
New Jersey coach John MacLean said it is obvious that Kovalchuk is pressing, just like most of the Devils.
“He doesn’t want to be in that situation,” MacLean said. “He wants to score. He is a prideful guy and he’s just going through a tough time. You have to hang with it and he will come out of it.”
Thomas Vanek also scored in the shootout for Buffalo, while Jamie Langenbrunner forced the extra round with a goal on the Devils’ third chance.
“It was a great team effort tonight and a much-needed win,” Vanek said after Buffalo won for the fifth time in 16 games. “They came at us, but we just kept coming back. We weren’t going to quit tonight. We really needed this.”
Roy, Jason Pominville, Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis scored for the Sabres and Enroth made 28 saves.
Jason Arnott scored twice and David Clarkson and Jamie Langenbrunner added goals for New Jersey.
Hedberg, who finished with 38 saves, was outstanding in the overtime, making six saves, including tough ones on Vanek, Roy and Myers.
Ennis tied it 4-4 8:54 into the third period, firing Myers’ pass into an open net.
With starters Martin Brodeur of the Devils out for the second straight game with an elbow injury and Ryan Miller of the Sabres sidelined for the fifth straight game by a sore leg, Ruff’s milestone became a battle of the backups.
It didn’t make for a low-scoring game.
Each team scored three times in the second period with Pominville and Roy putting the Sabres ahead 2-1 with goals in a 13-second span early.
MacLean called a timeout after Roy’s eighth goal of the season and ripped into his team with a couple of words that lip readers could probably guess.
New Jersey didn’t take long to respond and grabbed a 3-2 lead on goals by Clarkson on a nice setup by rookie Alexander Vasyunov and Arnott’s second of the game, this one on a power play at 12:01.
Former Devil Rob Niedermayer set up Myers for a tying goal less than two minutes later on a shot from the right circle.
Langenbrunner put New Jersey ahead 4-3 with 1:59 left in the period, when his pass across the crease went into the net of the skate of Sabres defenceman Chris Butler.
NOTES RW Mattias Tedenby, the Devils’ first-round draft choice in 2008, made his NHL debut and got an assist on Arnott’s goal. … Ruff hopes to have Miller back in the lineup either against Washington on Saturday or Vancouver on Monday. Both games are in Buffalo. … Buffalo almost put the puck into its own net in the first period on a delayed penalty. A pass to the point got past defenceman Shaone Morrisonn and hit off the side of the Sabres’ net.