The Buffalo Sabres and Anaheim Ducks are on the outside looking in as far as the playoff picture is concerned, and each team has the odds stacked against them despite some world-class goaltenders on their sides.
Ryan Miller outplayed Jonas Hiller to earn his fourth shutout of the season, making 20 of his 43 saves in the third period and leading the Sabres to a 2-0 victory over the Ducks on Wednesday night.
”Miller played outstanding. Their team played well and he played really well,” Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf said. ”We were right in there, hitting posts, getting pucks to the net and crashing the net hard. He did a great job keeping them out, as did their defense. We know he is one of the best goalies in the league. Tonight was one of those nights we couldn’t get one past him.”
Miller’s shutout was the 26th of his career. The 2010 Vezina Trophy winner has started 18 consecutive games, and has allowed fewer than three goals in 10 of them. This was the third time this season he has made at least 40 saves.
”Teams get desperate in the third period and they start to pinch (along the boards), and it’s hard to get out of your zone. But we tried to help each other out and were able to battle through it,” Miller said. ”I was trying to be really calm in the crease. It helps that we had a lot of great back pressure and the D was able to stand some guys up, so I don’t feel like I had to challenge the rush plays too much. I can read what’s coming, and all I had to do was step out and attack.”
Derek Roy scored on a power play and Brad Boyes also had a goal and Christian Ehrhoff had two assists for the Sabres, who are 9-3-3 since Jan. 24 and five points out of a playoff spot.
Hiller made 22 saves for the Ducks, who have lost consecutive games for the first time in eight weeks and are seven points out of a playoff spot with 18 games remaining. They were shut out for the fifth time this season, and first time at home.
”It’s definitely frustrating, seeing the guys trying and trying and not getting anywhere,” Hiller said. ”It’s tough (to watch) back there, but if we play like that every night, we always have a chance to win.”
The closest the Ducks came to scoring was with 6 1-2 minutes left in the game, when defenseman Francois Beauchemin took a screened wrist shot from the right point that hit the left post halfway up.
The frustration eventually got to the Ducks, who got into three fights in the final 39 seconds – two of them involving Getzlaf and Corey Perry, two-thirds of their top line.
”They needed this one, too, so they came hard. But Ryan shut the door,” Sabres left wing Tyler Ennis said.
The Sabres, just 2 for 34 on the power play over their previous 14 games, opened the scoring at 7:12 of the first period while Perry was serving a delay-of-game penalty. Tyler Myers’ misfired on a 45-foot wrist shot, but Roy played the carom off the end boards and tucked his 14th goal inside the left post while Hiller was out of position. It was the seventh straight game in which the Buffalo scored first, and the fifth straight time that the Ducks allowed the first goal.
”I would like to be able to score a goal before the other team does, so we don’t have to play from behind,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”It wasn’t for lack of effort. They are trying to score. We’ve been meeting some goalies that have been pretty good. Ryan Miller was at his MVP-best tonight.”
The Sabres had five power-play opportunities, two more than their total in the previous three games combined. They made it 2-0 at 8:16 of the second period, just 5 seconds after Anaheim killed off a boarding penalty against Luca Sbisa. The Ducks’ defenseman was just a few desperate strides from reaching Ehrhoff in the high slot when the Sabres’ center unleashed a screened slap shot that Boyes deflected past Hiller’s glove.
Rookie center Cody Hodgson made his Sabres debut, playing 16 minutes and getting five shots on net while getting some time on the power play and penalty-killing units. He also won five of eight faceoffs. Buffalo acquired the 22-year-old center from Vancouver along with defenseman Alexander Sulzer just before Monday’s trading deadline.
The teams met for the first time since opening night, when Thomas Vanek scored two power-play goals in Buffalo’s 4-1 victory at Helsinki.
Notes: Hiller, whose 23rd consecutive start in net tied the Ducks’ franchise record shared by Guy Hebert and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, is 14-5-4 during this stretch. … Miller has made only one other start at Anaheim. That was on Dec. 5, 2007, when he played against his brother, Drew, for the first time in an NHL game and lost 4-1. Drew is now with Detroit. … Rookie C Cody Hodgson made his Sabres debut. He was acquired from Vancouver along with D Alexander Sulzer just before Monday’s trading deadline. Sulzer was a healthy scratch. … Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf has four goals in his last 55 games.