Sabres 5, Thrashers 2
ATLANTA (AP)—Ryan Miller put on quite a show for the guy sitting high atop the arena.
Passed over for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, Miller turned away 35 shots to lead the Buffalo Sabres to a 5-2 victory over Atlanta on Tuesday night, extending the Thrashers’ losing streak to a season-high six in a row.
Jason Pominville scored a short-handed goal that put Buffalo ahead to stay, and Miller blanked the Thrashers after giving up two first-period goals.
Watching the game from his ninth-story box was Atlanta general manager Don Waddell, who is serving in the same role for the U.S. Olympic team.
While some considered Miller the best candidate for Turin, Waddell and his advisers were concerned that the Buffalo goalie missed significant time this season with a thumb injury. Philadelphia’s Robert Esche, Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay’s John Grahame were chosen instead.
“Any goaltender loves to play for his country, but I fully understand,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “I know how tough those decisions are. Don didn’t know about the recovery process or how long it was going to take. He had to make a decision.”
Miller is more concerned about his teammates in Buffalo than the guys he might have played with in Italy.
“The biggest thing on this team is we don’t want to let the other guys down,” he said. “That’s the way it’s got to be.”
Atlanta led 2-1 after the first period, but the Sabres fought back to close a six-game road trip—their longest of the season—with a third straight win.
Jochen Hecht created the play by speeding out of the Buffalo zone, splitting two Atlanta players and getting a shot on Lehtonen. The goalie knocked that one aside, but Ilya Kovalchuk failed to tie up Pominville on the rebound.
Pominville swatted in his 11th goal of the season, causing the usually calm Lehtonen to slam down his stick in disgust.
“I followed the play,” Pominville said. “I don’t think Kovalchuk knew I was there. I just tapped it in for an easy goal.”
While Lehtonen gave up a couple of goals off deflections, he was disgusted with his performance.
“We are making some bad mistakes and I am letting some easy goals in,” he said.
Kovalchuk must have felt even worse. The NHL’s top goal scorer failed to hit the net for the fifth game in a row, watched Pominville score the tie-breaking goal, and he was penalized for an illegal stick with just under 5 minutes remaining, wiping out a potential Atlanta power play.
“We benched him and his stick at the same time,” Ruff said. “Everybody on our bench saw it. You can’t hide that.”
Once Kovalchuk got out of the penalty box, he spent the rest of the game on the bench. Clearly, coach Bob Hartley was disgusted with his young star.
“It’s a matter of showing respect to the entire team, the organization and the fans,” Hartley said. “I hope he’ll learn from this.”
Paul Gaustad gave Buffalo some breathing room by scoring with 8:59 left in the third period. Alex Kotalik got off a shot from along the boards that was knocked down in front, but the puck slid right to the side of the Atlanta net, where Gaustad knocked it past Lehtonen.
J.P. Dumont finished off the Thrashers with 2:40 remaining. With both teams down a skater and the Thrashers pressing for a goal, Dumont broke in all alone on Lehtonen and scored his seventh of the season.
Kotalik scored his 20th goal just 5 minutes into the game—the seventh straight time Atlanta has given up the opening goal.
The Thrashers bounced back to take the lead before the period was over. Marian Hossa scored his 27th goal after muscling off a defender to get loose, and Ronald Petrovicky beat Miller off a nice pass from Peter Bondra, who shook off two players to find Petrovicky open in front.
Buffalo D Dmitri Kalinin took a big hit in the corner from Atlanta’s Brad Larsen and remained on the ice for several minutes. Kalinin hurt his upper back and underwent X-rays, but extent of his injury wasn’t known. … The Thrashers claimed Pittsburgh C Rico Fata off waivers before the game. … Bondra’s assist was his first point since returning last week from a groin injury that kept him out 22 games. … The Thrashers held a moment of silence for Coretta Scott King before the game.