Canucks 4, Sabres 1
Blanked in their first six chances on the power play, Nolan Baumgartner converted the seventh by leaning into a one-timer from the top of the circles and beat a screened Miller 4 minutes into the third period. The goal broke a tie and sparked the Canucks to a 4-1 win over the Sabres on Thursday night.
“Miller was seeing a lot early and on that one he was totally screened,” Baumgartner said. “We talked about that in the dressing room between periods, to get more traffic in front because the pucks were getting through from the d-men. We actually listened to ourselves this time.”
After surviving a Sabres surge following Baumgartner’s goal, Brendan Morrison added an insurance goal by getting behind two Buffalo defenders to put in a rebound of defenseman Steve McCarthy’s shot with 7 minutes left. Jarkko Ruutu scored into an empty net in the final minute, giving the Canucks their third straight win and sixth in seven games.
Alexandre Burrows also scored and Alex Auld made 22 saves as Vancouver kept pace with the Calgary Flames atop the Northwest Division with 59 points.
Auld, making his ninth straight start and 24th in 26 games, had to be at his best early against the Sabres’ strong power play and again when Buffalo pressured after falling behind. He got a break when Chris Drury glanced a shot off the crossbar less a minute into the third, but settled down to make nine saves in the third before Morrison increased the lead.
“I didn’t have a lot of work until the end but that’s part of the challenge, staying sharp and knowing the next save could be the big one because it was a tight game until the very end,” said Auld, 19-11-3 in his first full NHL season.
Jason Pominville scored for the Sabres, and Miller made 22 saves, losing for just the third time in 10 games since returning from a broken thumb. With 61 points, Buffalo is four behind Ottawa for first place in the Northeast Division.
“We did a good job, even in the third, but the room for error isn’t there when you’re on the road,” said Miller, who gave up more than one goal for just the fourth time since returning. “We allowed them opportunities to get the lead with a couple of penalties, especially early in the third.”
Neither team generated much at even strength in the first 1 1/2 periods, but both goaltenders had to be sharp short-handed.
Miller robbed Todd Bertuzzi twice on backdoor passes as the Canucks enjoyed the first two man advantages of the game. Auld had to be equally sharp as the Sabres’ second-ranked power play got the next four chances through the start of the second period.
“We played them pretty even for most of the game,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “But our power play struggled, and that threw a lot of momentum off because it was all special teams early.”
Burrows finally opened the scoring on a short-handed 2-on-2 rush 11:29 into the second. Miller got a piece of his first shot, and dove to stop his first rebound attempt at the side of the net. But Burrows kept whacking away at the loose puck, finally knocking it past Miller while being hauled to the ice behind the net.
“I kind of got a lucky bounce off the glass and it just stayed beside the net and I got a couple of whacks at it and it finally went in,” Burrows said.
The Sabres tied it on their next power play less than 5 minutes later, when the Canucks got caught up ice trying to score again short-handed.
Tim Connolly spotted Pominville trailing the rush and feathered a perfect cross-ice pass out of the corner that Pominville one-timed past a sliding Auld from the slot with 3 seconds left in the man advantage.
The Sabres finished 1-for-7 on the power play after scoring nine times with the man advantage in their previous five games. Vancouver was 1-for-6. … The loss dropped Buffalo to 14-7-1 on the road, while the Canucks improved to 17-3-3 at home. … Canucks C Josh Green played after being recalled from Manitoba of the AHL earlier in the day, taking the place of Matt Cooke, who is out seven to 10 days after spraining his ankle in practice Wednesday. … Buffalo will play the third game on its six-stop road trip in Calgary on Saturday before returning to the Eastern time zone for the rest of the regular season.