Vanek has goal and assist, Miller stops 26 shots in Sabres’ 3-1 win over Chicago

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)—The Buffalo Sabres are getting used to winning the close games.

Thomas Vanek had a goal and assist, and Ryan Miller made 26 saves to spoil Patrick Kane’s homecoming and help lift Buffalo to a 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.

Drew Stafford and Jason Pominville also scored, and Derek Roy added two assists for the Sabres, who won their third straight and fourth in five games.

It was the second straight game in which Buffalo held a late one-goal lead before scoring into an empty net, and the third in a row in which they protected a one-goal advantage in the final frame.

Mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference for most of the season, the defending Presidents’ Trophy-winning Sabres are aware of the importance of holding on.

“We have to be able to win those tight ones,” Pominville said. “That’s usually a sign of a good team. It’s not every night you’ll be able to score five or six goals.”

After allowing Kane to score on Chicago’s first shot, Miller was solid the rest of the way in his fifth straight start and 10th consecutive appearance. He made several big stops, including denying Kane’s point-blank shot in the second period to preserve Buffalo’s one-goal lead.

Miller also made a sparkling kick save on Tuomo Ruutu from in close with 6 minutes left in regulation, and kicked out Brent Seabrook’s slap shot from the top of the right circle that seemed destined to go in minutes later.

“He made great saves to keep us in the game,” Pominville said. “He’s been playing well, and that’s what we expect.”

The slumping Blackhawks, meanwhile, have lost five of six overall, and four straight on the road.

“It was a game where the neutral zone was clogged pretty good,” Chicago coach Denis Savard said. “They got one power-play goal and we didn’t.”

The game was Kane’s first in his hometown. The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft grew up about six miles from the Sabres’ downtown arena, and had about 500 family and friends in attendance at the game.

“It was a tough game,” Kane said. “There was a little bit of a distraction. I was probably the only one who could really get up for this game.”

Kane received a warm ovation when his name was announced after he was called for a hooking penalty in the first period.

“The guy in the penalty box even said to me, ‘You can’t go wrong tonight,”’ Kane said.

Chicago’s Nikolai Khabibulin finished with 20 saves in his fifth straight start.

Kane opened the scoring at 2:35 of the first with his first goal in 14 games. From behind the goal line, Patrick Sharp fed Kane, who was just coming into the slot. Kane one-timed the puck past Miller along the ice for his eighth goal.

Vanek tied it with his 10th nearly 3 minutes into the second period on the power play. Standing in the slot, Vanek let go a quick wrist shot after accepting a pass from Roy, who was behind the goal line.

Stafford made it 2-1 midway through the second with his seventh. Stafford picked up a loose puck in the right circle, whirled around and whistled a wrist shot that eluded Khabibulin.

Pominville capped the scoring with an empty-net goal with 47 seconds remaining.

“We’re taking more pride in playing defensively and blocking shots,” Vanek said. “I think it’s paying off.”

Notes

Kane was honored before the game, with his father and grandfather dropping the ceremonial first puck. … Because of Kane, the Blackhawks opened their morning skate to the public, and about 1,000 people showed up. … This was the first matchup between the teams in Buffalo since a 1-1 tie in December 2002. … Buffalo is 2-4 against the Western Conference. … It was Chicago’s only road contest during its current stretch of playing six of seven at home.

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Three Stars

  Three Stars
R. Miller
R. Miller
Sabres - G
Saves: 26
Save Pct.: .963
T. Vanek
T. Vanek
Sabres - LW
Goals: 1
Assists: 1
P. Kane
P. Kane
Blackhawks - RW
Goals: 1
Assists: 0

Goaltending

Goalie Team Shot Save
Nikolai Khabibulin Chi 22 20
Ryan Miller StL 27 26

Scoreboard

Saturday, Dec 15