MONTREAL – Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres’ playoff chase is back on track.
Miller made 32 saves in regulation time and stopped all six Canadiens in a shootout as the Sabres downed Montreal 4-3 in a key NHL Eastern Conference game on Saturday night.
The win left Buffalo (37-30-8) in 10th place in the NHL Eastern Conference, only four points behind Montreal (38-27-10), which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.
“I was a bit disappointed in the second period, so I wanted to be there for the boys and I’m glad I got my opportunity,” said Miller.
Miller returned Friday night to backstop Buffalo to a 5-3 victory at home over the Toronto Maple Leafs. He had missed 13 games with a sprained ankle, during which time the Sabres went 4-7-2 and dropped out of a playoff position and seemingly out of the race.
But now that he’s back, so are the Sabres’ post-season hopes.
“I think the guys are starting to enjoy these battles,” he said after the team’s third straight win.
Tony Lydman scored in the sixth round of the shootout to secure the win.
The Sabres’ Clarke MacArthur’s goal early in the third period forced overtime and then the shootout, in which Miller stopped all six Montreal shooters, although Tomas Plekanec rang his shot off a post.
Carey Price stopped five Sabres before Lydman beat him with a wrist shot between the pads.
But the second-year goaltender had his best game in more than a month, making 34 saves and holding his team in the game through a nervy third period.
“I felt like I am back,” he said. “This was probably the first night in a while that I felt really good.
“Both teams really wanted those points. I’m glad we got at least one.”
Adam Mair and Tim Connolly also scored for the Sabres, while Alex Kovalev had two and Chris Higgins added the other in regulation time for Montreal, which ended a two-game winning streak.
Montreal coach Bob Gainey didn’t know whether to applaud or cry.
“You could say we gave up a lead in the third period or that we came back after we were behind 2-0,” he said. “It was a good game.
“Both teams had a lot riding on it. It was a like a playoff game. We came here fully committed to taking two points, but we didn’t so we can’t be satisfied. But we gained a point on the team ahead of us (the New York Rangers), so we can exhale.”
The Sabres managed to take a two-goal lead despite lacking some legs early on.
They had just ended a power play when Jochen Hecht fired a pass to the far post that was redirected in by Mair at 17:35 of the opening period.
A mix-up on the clearing attempt handed Connolly the puck in the slot to fire in his 17th goal on a power play 2:36 into the second frame, but Higgins beat Miller with a high wrist shot on a rush down the left side at 7:58 to start a three-goal Montreal outburst.
Saku Koivu went around the net and had his backhand attempt go in off Kovalev at 12:33 and, while on a two-man advantage, Kovalev stopped a hard pass from Mathieu Schneider at the side of the net with his skate and slipped it inside the post at 15:14.
The Sabres played desperation hockey in the third and it paid off when, after some tough checking in the Montreal zone, Jason Pominville’s shot went off Price’s skate to MacArthur for the tying goal at 3:58. Then the Canadiens held on as they were outshot 16-7 in the third.
“Our team was a little nervous in the third,” added Gainey. “We didn’t move the puck with the same confidence.
“Price had to keep us in there. And he gave us a chance to win in the shootout.”
Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta appeared to be injured when he was hit head-first into the boards 2:52 into the game by Maxim Lapierre, who got a minor penalty for boarding. Kaleta played sporadically after that until finally leaving the game in the third period.
Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said he had a concussion.
Pominville now has 10 points in his last six games, while Connolly has four goals in his last three. Kovalev is also hot, with five goals in his last three games.
Notes: For the seventh time this season, struggling forward Maxim Afinogenov was scratched. Others not dressed for Buffalo were Teppo Numminen, Matt Ellis, Nathan Paetsch, Andrew Peters and Mikael Tellqvist. . . . Andrei Kostitsyn missed a second game with a flu for Montreal, while Ryan O’Byrne, Georges Laraque and Greg Stewart were scratched.