BUFFALO, N.Y. – Some five weeks into the regular season, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller finally gave Buffalo Sabres fans something to cheer about at home—a victory.
Vanek scored twice, including the decisive goal on a great individual effort four minutes into overtime, to secure the Sabres first home win of the season in a 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night.
Miller did his part, stopping 23 shots—including a splendid left pad save to foil Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway—in his first game after missing six with a hip injury.
“We owe the fans a few, and that was a good team to start it against,” a relieved Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
The Sabres became the last NHL team to win a home game this season after an 0-6-1 start at Buffalo. They ended the skid by defeating the league’s top team while also ending the Capitals’ six-game win streak.
And the victory followed a promising three-game road trip, during which Buffalo went 2-0-1—all three games decided in overtime or shootout.
“It was nice to find our game the last three games on the road, and tonight was a big home win finally for us,” Vanek said. “It was overdue.”
Vanek was overdue as well, as he snapped a seven-game goal drought.
After both teams traded one-goal leads, Vanek sealed it on what proved to be a broken play. Catching up to a loose puck in the neutral zone, Vanek circled around and drove in up the middle. He burst past flat-footed defender John Carlson to get in alone on net, where he faked a forehand, eluded goalie Braden Holtby’s poke check and then backhanded the puck into the open left side.
“It felt nice, obviously,” Vanek said. “Any time you can contribute to help the team win is great. So far, it’s been a rough stretch.”
Steve Montador also scored and Jordan Leopold had three assists.
Nicklas Backstrom and rookie defenceman Karl Alzner—with the first goal of his career—scored for the Capitals (12-4-1), who lost for the first time since a 2-1 defeat at Minnesota on Oct. 28.
“Both teams could’ve won, and I guess it was Buffalo’s time today,” Backstrom said. “At least we’re happy about one point.”
Backstrom pinned the loss on the Capitals coming out flat in the second period, when they were outshot 11-4 and outscored 2-0 in squandering a first-period lead.
“We just stopped working,” Backstrom said. “The third period was a little bit of a wakeup call for us after the second period.”
Backstrom responded by scoring 7:09 into the third to tie the game, when he roofed a shot in from the slot over Miller’s right shoulder. Miller was otherwise solid, showing little sign of rust or aftereffects from the injury.
His save on Ovechkin was a difference-maker, coming 15 minutes into the first. In alone from the right circle, Ovechkin drove in on Miller, who held his ground in the crease and kicked out his left pad just as the sniper attempted to stuff the puck inside the post.
“I was just happy to get it,” Miller said. “He set himself up to make that hard forehand move that basically blows the goalie into the net. So I just tried to push as hard as I could into him.”
Ovechkin failed to register a point to end an eight-game streak, in which he had five goals and 10 assists.
Miller also made two solid saves on bang-bang chances in the final minute of the first period, first stopping Tyler Sloan’s point shot, and then getting across to hug the right post to prevent Marcus Johansson’s shot from a bad angle.
Ruff remembered Miller’s save on Ovechkin, describing it as a momentum changer, particularly with the Sabres already trailing 1-0.
“(It) was good for the team,” Ruff said, “and it was good for Ryan at the same time.”
NOTES: Capitals RW Alexander Semin extended his points streak to seven games with an assist on Alzner’s opening goal. It also marked Semin’s first point in seven games at Buffalo. … Prior to the game, the Sabres honoured RW Mike Grier for playing in his 1,000th career game on Nov. 3. … Capitals RW Boyd Gordon did not play, and will miss about a week after taking a shot to the leg during a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday. The Capitals were also without D Tom Poti, who has an undisclosed injury. Poti had missed eight games with a lower body injury, before returning to the lineup—and scoring a goal—against Tampa Bay. … Johansson returned after missing nine games with a hip flexor for the Capitals.