Canucks’ Miller makes 20 saves to stifle former Sabres teammates
Ryan Miller spent his morning catching up with his friends on the Buffalo Sabres. Hours later, the Vancouver Canucks goalie sent his former team to its 14th straight regulation loss in his first game against the Sabres.
Miller made 20 saves, and Chris Higgins snapped out of a long slump with a goal and an assist to lift the Canucks over the Sabres 5-2 on Friday night.
Bo Horvat, Yannick Weber, Nick Bonino and Radim Vrbata also scored for the Canucks, who ended a two-game skid. Christopher Tanev and Henrik Sedin both added two assists.
Chris Stewart had both goals for the Sabres (14-33-3), who failed to earn a single point in January and haven’t won on the road since late November.
"When things go bad, things go bad," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "Every time we make a mistake it seems to be in our net. When things are like that, that’s what usually happens."
Matt Hackett stopped 33 shots in his first start of the season for the NHL-worst Sabres.
Miller spent 12 seasons with the Sabres organization, leading the club to Eastern Conference finals appearances in 2006 and 2007. He was dealt to St. Louis before last season’s trade deadline with Buffalo in full rebuild mode.
"I’m not going to lie, it was a little bit weird looking down the ice and seeing that jersey," said Miller, who signed with Vancouver in July. "But it just turns into a hockey game and you want to win, you want to compete. It was nice to get that win."
The 34-year-old Miller has been a big reason why Vancouver occupies a playoff spot in the West.
Tied 1-1 after the first period, the Canucks grabbed the lead with power-play goals 2:36 apart early in the second that snapped a 2-for-29 drought with the man advantage. Weber scored his fourth of the season at 1:43 off the rush before Bonino banged in a loose puck for his 11th goal at 4:19.
"It’s the nice shots that don’t go in (and) the greasy, ugly rebounds that do," Bonino said. "You have to go to the net. That’s where you have to go to score goals. I was happy that one went in."
Vancouver had a number of chances to stretch that lead, but Stewart scored his second of the night, and second on the power play, when his centering pass from the side of the net deflected in off Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis for his ninth at 14:16.
Miller made the save of the night on Drew Stafford’s breakaway during another power play a few minutes later.
Higgins put the game out of reach with his seventh of the season at 5:31 of the third by finishing off a nice passing play with the teams playing 4-on-4. The goal snapped a 12-game drought for Higgins, and was his second in 23 games.
"It feels good. Obviously it’s been a while," Higgins said. "The game is not all about scoring, but I think I have to produce at a better clip for our team to go a long way this year.
"It’s a special group here so it feels good to contribute."
Vrbata scored into an empty net with under a minute to go for his 19th.
Despite playing its third game in four nights, Buffalo opened the scoring on the power play four minutes in when Stewart beat Miller on the Sabres’ first shot.
Hackett — who sustained a serious knee injury at the end of last season — made a great desperation save with his stick on Vancouver’s Shawn Matthias a few minutes later, but the Canucks tied it with 24 seconds left in the period when Horvat poked in his own rebound for his fourth.
The goal was Vancouver’s first at home in 195 minutes, 57 seconds — a stretch of nearly 10 periods.
"I think that was really important," Horvat said. "We were feeling good about ourselves. It helped our confidence as a team and got the guys going."
NOTES: With Derek Dorsett and Brad Richardson out with injuries up front for the Canucks, Ronalds Kenins made his NHL debut. … Cody Hodgson, dealt by Vancouver to Buffalo for Zack Kassian in 2012, was scratched by the Sabres.