ATLANTA – The Atlanta Thrashers beat Buffalo’s Ryan Miller early before finally finishing off the Sabres late.
Miller was pulled after giving up three goals in the first six minutes and Jim Slater’s third-period goal gave the Thrashers a 4-3 win over the Northeast-leading Sabres on Tuesday night.
After Miller’s early exit, Patrick Lalime shut out the Thrashers until Slater’s tiebreaking goal with 6:44 remaining.
Miller was not available for comment after his short night, but everyone else was talking about the strange sight of seeing the MVP of the Olympics hockey tournament leaving the ice so early.
“Just goes to show you it can happen to the best of them,” said Atlanta coach John Anderson. “He just really made a mistake on one when we got behind the net and he lost it. Other than that we forced some nice plays.”
The Sabres have lost three straight and fell to 0-2 on their five-game road trip. Buffalo remained three points ahead of second-place Ottawa, which lost to Toronto, in the Northeast Division.
Niclas Bergfors’ third assist set up Slater’s shot in front of the net.
“I just went hard to the net and got a goal,” Slater said.
“It doesn’t happen very often to chase Ryan Miller in the first six minutes, but we came out strong and we needed this one.”
Bergfors said if Miller had survived his rough start, “he might have held us the rest of the game.”
The Thrashers ended a six-game losing streak. They scored only eight goals in the six losses before ending their scoring slump with the goals by Nik Antropov, Bryan Little and Maxim Afinogenov.
The Sabres trailed 3-1 after the first period before tying the game early in the third period. Tim Kennedy deflected Steve Montador’s shot past Johan Hedberg for a 3-3 tie.
Matt Ellis and Jason Pominville also scored for the Sabres.
“We felt comfortable we were generating enough chances to win the game,” Anderson said. “But nothing has come easy for us this year, so it doesn’t surprise us.”
Fans arriving only a few minutes late missed seeing Miller, the U.S. Olympics star, in the net for Buffalo.
Miller skated off the ice with only two stops in the first 5:40.
“He had given up three goals in five opportunities,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “It’s never an easy decision. It’s something you don’t want to do, but sometimes you have to.”
Ellis said Miller didn’t deserve all the blame for the slow start.
“You can’t afford to give teams goals right at the start,” Ellis said. “It’s something we need to address. We came out a little apprehensive. It was kind of a wake-up call for us.
“I don’t know what happened. It is what it is. The beauty of it is that we had the opportunity to come back.”
Miller also gave up three first-period goals in a 5-3 win over Dallas on March 10.
Despite his early exit, Miller received an ovation during the first break when fans were reminded of his starring role on the U.S. team.
The Sabres ended an 0 for 16 slump on their power play in road games when Pominville scored with a man-advantage in the first period.
Buffalo cut the Atlanta lead to 3-2 in the second period when Ellis tipped Kennedy’s shot into the net.
Afinogenov, in his first season with Atlanta after nine in Buffalo, had a goal and an assist in the opening minutes. His pass from behind the net set up Antropov’s shot for a 1-0 lead only 33 seconds into the game. Little’s goal pushed the lead to 2-0 before Pominville answered for Buffalo. Afinogenov’s shot past Miller’s catching glove gave Atlanta a 3-1 lead.
NOTES: Buffalo has won only one of its last 11 road games. … Hedberg had 29 saves. … Lalime stopped 20 shots. … Thrashers C Todd White returned after leaving with an apparent injury to his right leg early in the second period. … Atlanta took its first lead since March 6 by scoring the first goal.