A three-game winning streak isn’t nearly enough for Ryan Miller and the rest of the Buffalo Sabres to be able to relax.
Miller does acknowledge, however, that they are in a far better place than where the fragile, slow-starting Sabres were just two weeks ago when coach Lindy Ruff was fired.
Showing signs of being pushovers no longer, the Sabres got timely goals and clutch saves, and they displayed resilience in pulling out a 4-3 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
”It certainly feels better to win. But we’ve got a lot of work,” Miller said. ”I don’t want anybody in this room or organization to get comfortable.”
At least the Sabres (9-12-1) could start feeling good about themselves while enjoying their longest winning streak since a five-game run from March 19-27 last season.
Miller stopped 28 shots through overtime, and denied both Devils chances in the shootout. Sabres captain Jason Pominville, who had one goal in his previous 11 games, scored twice in regulation and added another goal in the shootout. Veteran forward Jochen Hecht ended a 32-game goal drought, dating to Dec. 30, 2011.
Most importantly, the Sabres showed no hint of a letdown during the third period when both teams traded one-goal leads.
That is more like it for Ron Rolston, who improved to 3-2 since taking over for Ruff as interim coach.
”We’re getting more resilient as a team now, and I think that’s a good sign for us,” said Rolston, who enjoyed his first home victory. ”When I first got here, if we gave up the third goal, it might have been a different result.”
The Devils, by comparison, are now the ones slumping.
New Jersey dropped to 0-3-1 in its past four, matching its longest skid since Feb. 24-March 1 last season. The Devils (10-6-5) are 1-4-2 in their past seven, looking nothing like the team that opened the season on an 8-1-3 roll.
The Devils at least managed to salvage a point in this one.
”I think we’re figuring it out again, and things are going in the right direction,” said forward Ryan Carter, who had an assist in his first game back after missing four because of an upper body injury. ”You take the positives and move forward.”
New Jersey’s offense is finally rediscovering its rhythm.
Adam Henrique, Steve Bernier and Andrei Loktionov scored for a team that had been limited to nine goals in its previous six games.
On the downside, the Devils have yet to win since Martin Brodeur was sidelined by a sore back. He has missed four games, and isn’t expected to play Monday at Toronto, when New Jersey closes its three-game road swing.
Veteran backup Johan Hedberg made 20 saves, and gave up both shots he faced in the shootout, including one to Tyler Ennis.
Miller was perfect at the other end.
Ilya Kovalchuk got Miller down, but shot over the net on the Devils’ first shootout chance. Then Miller got his glove up to snare Henrique’s backhand.
Both teams scored in bunches, and each club had a short-handed goal.
After Pominville opened the scoring with a short-handed goal 7:17 into the second period, Bernier responded 2:17 later, tying the game when Mark Fayne’s point shot banked in off him.
Henrique put the Devils up 2-1 with a short-handed goal 1:21 into the third period. The Sabres countered 1:49 later when Pominville was set up to the right of the net by Cody Hodgson’s cross-ice pass.
After Hecht put the Sabres up 3-2 at 9:47, Loktionov tied it 1:35 later.
Buffalo avoided a letdown to win its second straight shootout game, following a 4-3 victory at Florida on Thursday.
”I think we’re not getting down on ourselves when the other team scores. That might be the biggest thing,” Ennis said. ”When that happens, we’re staying positive.”
NOTES: The Sabres were without leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who has been bothered by an upper-body injury. Rolston said he expects Vanek to return Sunday, when the Sabres play the Rangers in New York. … Sabres C Brian Flynn made his NHL debut a day after being called up from AHL Rochester. … Kovalchuk, who had an assist, played in his 800th NHL game. … This marked only the second time this season two short-handed goals were scored in the same game, according to STATS LLC. Toronto and Winnipeg scored one each in the Maple Leafs’ 3-2 win on Feb. 7. There were 10 games last season with at least two short-handed goals.