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Sabres' Miller stops Capitals in SO

The SportsXchange

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller emphatically made his case on Sunday to be USA Hockey's top goalie at the Winter Olympics.

Miller was sensational for the Sabres, making a career-high 49 saves to lead Buffalo (11-24-4) to a 2-1 shootout victory over the Washington Capitals.

"He's the best goalie in the league and I don't say that lightly by any means. I really think that," said Sabres captain Steve Ott, who scored the game-winning goal in the shootout. "He keeps us in there, especially tonight. The team didn't steal the game, Ryan Miller stole that game for us."

The Sabres were outshot 50-17 in the victory but won due to the heroics of their goalie. Miller was at his best in the shootout when he foiled all six Washington shooters, including right winger Alex Ovechkin, the NHL's leading goal scorer. Ovechkin, Washington's second shooter, sped down the center of the ice but Miller stacked his pads to stop his shot.

"I tried to shoot it five-hole but as soon as he started to go down, I wanted to shoot it low under him," Ovechkin said. "But somebody has to score and somebody has to make the save. He made the save. He played unbelievable and he deserved to win."

Miller was again at his best moments later in the fourth round of the shootout, when Capitals center Mikhail Grabovski attempted a 360-degree spin move in front of the goal crease that was snuffed out by Miller.

Miller's best stops in regulation came midway through the third period when he thwarted two prime back-to-back opportunities in front of the Buffalo net. Miller sprawled on the ice to deny Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who had one point appeared to have an open net, at the end of the sequence.

"That was worth the price of admission to watch goaltending like that," Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. "Very rarely do we get to see it live and tonight he was sensational."

USA Hockey will name its roster for the Olympics following the Winter Classic on Wednesday.

"It's not up to me," Miller said. "It depends what they think they want to go with. I think with my experience in tournament play, I think I've been pretty good in tournament play in my career, starting back in juniors and college. So those short sequences where you get into a week and a half, two weeks, I'd like to think it's something they value as an asset."

Ott scored the game-winning goal in the sixth round of the shootout. Ott fired a wrist shot past Washington goalie Philipp Grubauer high to the goalie's blocker side. Miller stopped Washington defenseman Mike Green on Washington's final attempt.

Right winger Drew Stafford scored in regulation for the Sabres (11-24-4). Buffalo has now won four of its last six games and has points in five of its last six games.

Right winger Troy Brouwer scored in regulation for the Capitals (20-14-5), who were generally pleased with an effort that saw them post 50 shots on net.

"Any time you get 50 shots on net, you're playing a good hockey game," Brouwer said. "We came in after the game and it's tough to be disappointed in our game when we played so well. We didn't give them a shot on goal until the four-minute mark of the first period and even after that they didn't have that many opportunities."

"I can't really complain on the night," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "We had 15 shots in every period, we did a lot of good things. There's always mistakes, but we played a pretty solid game. Obviously you want to win but I'm not disappointed."

Brouwer tied the game at 1-1 5:34 into the third period with a blast from just inside the left circle that went into the top left corner of the net. After a turnover from Ott in the Sabres end, center Mikhail Grabovski fed Brouwer for his eighth goal of the season.

Stafford gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead before the end of the second period despite Buffalo being outshot by a 30-10 margin. Stafford deflected defenseman Christian Ehrhoff's shot from the left wall past Grubauer for his fourth goal of the season with 1:42 left in the second. It was Stafford's second goal in five games after going 17 games without scoring.

The Capitals dominated the first period but were unable to get on the scoreboard through 20 minutes. Washington outshot Buffalo 15-3 in the first period. Buffalo didn't record its first shot on goal until there was 4:26 left in the period.

NOTES: This was the first of three meetings between the two teams this season. ... Heading into the game, Washington won three in a row against the Sabres. ... C Brooks Laich, D Alexander Urbom and G Michal Neuvirth were scratched for the Capitals. ... C Cody Hodgson and D Alexander Sulzer were scratched for the Sabres. Hodgson, Buffalo's top center, suffered an upper-body injury against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 19. ... This was the 144th game all-time between Buffalo and Washington. ... This was the seventh of 17 sets of back-to-back games this season for the Capitals. Washington goes up against the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

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