Miller outperformed Cristobal Huet in a shootout as the first-place Sabres downed the second-place Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in a battle of Northeast Division rivals on Saturday night.
Daniel Briere and Thomas Vanek – with the decisive goal on slapshot from the slot – scored for Buffalo in the shootout while only Alex Kovalev was able to beat Miller.
Buffalo is now 3-0-1 against Montreal this season, but three of the games have gone to overtime. Miller thwarted the Canadiens in a 4-1 win in Montreal in the only game to end in regulation.
“I enjoy coming to Montreal,” said Miller. “It’s one of my favourite road rinks.
“I like the environment. It’s almost like going to church. You’ve got almost 22,000 people here and they all love hockey, so you want to bring your best. It’s a great rivalry. It’s good hockey and the fans seem to like it.”
The Sabres are 5-1 in shootouts this season. Miller has stopped 16 of 20 shots, while Briere is now five-for-seven in shootouts.
Vanek went into the game only one-for-four in shootouts and opted for a slapshot to try to fool Huet. It worked.
“The past few shootouts, I tried my old moves and I wasn’t successful, so I just went with something different,” said Vanek. “I was hoping he’d think it was just a fake and it worked out. I don’t think he was expecting it.”
In regulation time, Michael Ryder and Sheldon Souray scored power-play goals for Montreal (16-8-5), while Jiri Novotny and Derek Roy replied for Buffalo (22-5-1), which was coming off a 3-1 loss in Florida on Thursday.
“We just played a lot smarter,” added Vanek. “In Florida, it was embarrassing. We just got outskated and outworked. So this was a good win for us.”
Souray tied the game with a power play goal at 2:52 of the third period as he moved in from the point, faked a shot and then beat Miller with a high shot.
It was Souray’s team-leading 11th of the season, but the defenceman left 11 minutes into the third with an apparent right wrist injury after being checked into the boards by Paul Gaustad.
Coach Guy Carbonneau would only call it an “upper body” injury and said Souray would go for tests on Sunday. He said losing Souray to injury would be “huge.
“We were able to go into overtime because we scored two power-play goals and Souray is a big part of our power play.”
But Carbonneau had no complaints about the outcome. His team finished a stretch of three games in four nights with four of a possible six points.
“The last three games were all together probably our best three games this year,” he said. “We played three excellent teams (New Jersey, the New York Islanders and Buffalo) and got four points, so I can’t complain. The guys battled hard.”
A surprise decision saw Sergei Samsonov, whose career-high scoreless drought stretched to 19 games, take the final shootout shot for Montreal. He was stopped.
“I thought it was a good time for him, but unfortunately, it didn’t work,” said Carbonneau. “He played well.
“He went to the net, got some shots (two). You could see he wanted to score goals.”
The Sabres lacked some zip in a scoreless opening period in which they were outshot 11-5 and leaned on Miller to keep from falling behind.
Miller was sharp again to stop Saku Koivu in alone short-handed to open the second frame and the Sabres got back on track.
Novotny went to the net to put in Maxim Afinogenov’s shot to open the scoring with the teams each down a man at 6:12.
Montreal tied it on a power play at 9:11 when Ryder slid in the rebound of a bullet shot from the point by Souray and went off Koivu’s foot.
But with 2:15 left in the period, a run of pressure in the Montreal zone ended when Roy lifted a shot inside the near post.
Shots were even at 33-33.
Briere was called for diving in the second period after an emphatic fall from a push by Craig Rivet. It was Briere’s first diving call and he will be warned by the league. A second offence carries a US$1,000 fine.
Notes – Defenceman Teppo Numminen broke a toe when he blocked a shot Thursday in Florida and is listed as day-to-day. Buffalo recalled Andrej Sekera, who saw his first NHL action for the Sabres, and returned Dan Paille to AHL Rochester. Henrik Tallinder remains sidelined with a broken arm… Janne Niinimaa, who took a puck in the eye on Long Island on Thursday, sat out, while Garth Murray was a healthy scratch for Montreal.. . F Chris Higgins, who has missed 16 games with a sprained ankle, skated with the Canadiens Saturday morning and is expected to return next week.