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Sabres win finale in Miller's 500th game

The SportsXchange

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Goaltender Ryan Miller made the most of his 500th game in a Buffalo Sabres uniform on Friday night.

Miller stopped all three shots in a shootout to give Buffalo a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders.

Miller is the 62nd goaltender in NHL history to play at least 500 games but only the 20th to do so with one team. Miller, who made his Buffalo debut against New Jersey on Nov. 19, 2002, turned away 30 shots in regulation.

The shootout win was Buffalo's seventh of the season. Thomas Vanek opened the shootout by beating Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Miller stopped Frans Nielsen, Brad Boyes and John Tavares.

"It was nice to put it away in the shootout," said Vanek, noting Nabokov stopped him on a breakaway in the third period. "During the game, I think I just played my game. We wanted the win more for Ryan than anything."

The victory was Miller's 17th of the season and 269th in his 10-year career.

"It was a lot of fun," Miller said. "We just tried to enjoy everything. I'll take a moment to have a milestone. I thought the crowd was very receptive. I really appreciate that. It made it a fun night and it's something I'll remember."

Buffalo ended the season 21-21-6 and the Islanders (24-18-6) will to wait at least a day before finding out their first-round playoff opponent. Depending on how the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators fare in their final games, the Islanders will have a chance to finish as high as sixth as a result of the shootout loss.

For the first 47 minutes, it appeared Miller would post his 29th career shutout. However, Miller gave up the tying goal at 7:26 when Keith Aucoin fired a loose puck past him. The goal was set up when Andrew McDonald's centering pass rebounded off the end boards and out of Miller's grasp.

"I was able to get a good bounce off of the boards. It was so hard that Miller wasn't able to get it," Aucoin said. "He kind of lunged and I had a five-hole wide open. I don't think he expected to come off the boards as hard as it did.

"Once it got by him, he was too far out of the net and couldn't recover. As soon as I saw the puck go by him, I knew I was going to have a good chance of scoring."

The shot started a flurry of activity in the Islanders' end. They fired the final four shots of the period and five of the six overtime shots.

"The first 40 weren't good for us," Aucoin said. "I thought the last 20 were pretty good. Once we got that goal, we got some momentum and we started playing the way we're capable of playing. We got to do that for the first 20. We can't wait for the last 10."

Nabokov, who agreed with Aucoin about the Islanders' start, was happy that the team picked up a key point.

"If we're going to play like this, I don't think we're going to have much (of a) chance in the playoffs," said Nabokov, who made 21 saves. "Also, I think, you have back-to-back games, already made the playoffs, it's no excuse, but still, we don't like the way we played. Teams are so evenly built right now so whoever has more edge, who goes to the net more, wins hockey games usually."

And that was Buffalo in the second period.

Brian Flynn's slap shot from between the faceoff circles beat Nabokov stick-side 3:29 into the second period to account for the Sabres' goal. Vanek set up that goal by stealing the puck from the Islanders' duo of Travis Hamonic and Kyle Okposo near the left boards, and he found Flynn skating between the faceoff circles.

The assist was Vanek's 21st of the season, tying him for the team lead with Tyler Ennis. Vanek also led the Sabres in goals (20) and points (41).

NOTES: After the game, Buffalo's Jochen Hecht announced his retirement from the NHL. "The last few weeks, I kind of decided, or we, my family, decided to go back and start our life in Germany." Hecht spent 10 of his 14 seasons in Buffalo. He had 186 goals and 277 assists in 833 games.
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