Sabres' Miller stops Lightning in hairy victory

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

TAMPA -- Ryan Miller seemed perfectly attired to address the media: sweatsuit top, Buffalo Sabres hat, shorts. He paused, however, reached back in his locker and grabbed a ridiculous fur coat. With one fluff he swung over his shoulders. Now he was ready.
The Sabres had instituted the wearing of the logo-emblazoned fur as sort of a game ball earlier this season when things were going badly. With things continuing to go south and the team firing long-time coach Lindy Ruff last Wednesday, the coat had only been worn once.
After the Sabres somehow managed to be the Lightning, 2-1, at Tampa Bay Times Forum on Tuesday night -- after being out-shot and committing five more penalties -- Miller wasn't going to miss his chance to further the tradition.
"There's been some hard work over the course of the season. The battle was there, but the smarts are coming back around," said Miller, who made 30 saves as Buffalo broke a four-game losing streak. "I saw our guys all pull together. They did get chances, but on the (penalty kill) we battled hard. But we were together and we got through it."
Buffalo (7-12-1) emerged from two periods of offensive problems -- caused partly by the numerous penalty kills -- to take a 2-1 lead just 52 seconds into the third period. Tyler Myers' fling from near the right faceoff circle easily beat goaltender Mathieu Garon, who had strayed far to his right in failing to control a Sabres pass. Thomas Vanek added his second assist of the night, Jason Pominville his first. Myers had committed a second-period hooking penalty that put the Sabres in a two-man disadvantage.
"We talk a lot about the mental part of things and the psyche and it was really good to see for him, he was able to bounce back and just keep focus on what was in front of him instead of what was behind him," said Ron Rolston, who won for the first time as an NHL head coach. "It was good for him. It was good for all us our guys just to sit in that room and have that feeling where they did a lot of things right tonight and got rewarded or it."
The first period ended in a 1-1 tie after each team managed five shots. Tampa Bay (9-9-1) controlled play but was sluggish with the puck, struggling to complete key passes or maintain the offensive zone in key moments, including two power plays where the Lightning managed just one shot.
Tampa Bay, which squandered a chance to take the Southeast Division lead alone after Carolina lost to Washington, scored less than two minutes in, but was stumped thereafter. Steven Stamkos, the league's top scorer with (14) goals, followed a long rebound of a Miller pad save with a quick poke and a 1-0 lead with 18:35 left in the period. Teddy Purcell and Cory Conacher had the assists.
A turnover in the defensive zone cued the sequence for Buffalo's tying goal. Vanek intercepted a pass at the blue line and cycled the puck, which Cody Hodgson flicked off defender's skate to tie the score, 1-1, with 9:58 left in the period. Andrej Sekera and Vanek had the assists.
"Sekera shot wide behind the net and I was actually trying to pass to Pominville," Hodgson said, "and it went off my stick. Sometimes you get lucky."
Buffalo racked up three more penalties in the second period, giving the Lightning numerous chances, including a brief 5-on-3 power play. But the score remained tie 1-1 entering the third period. Lightning coach Guy Boucher was disgusted that Tampa Bay wasted a game in which it boasted a 19-8 advantage in scoring chances.
"Our number of chances can't be any higher," he said. "That's probably the highest total we've had all year, in terms of scoring chances. We can't increase the number of scoring chances and the quality of the scoring chances we got were very good."
Tampa Bay outshot the Sabres, 31-21.
"Just trying to keep it simple right now," said Stamkos. "I thought we got lots of shots again. Kept them to a minimum."
Miller was able to survive Tampa Bay's constant offensive pressure with a combination of slick goaltending -- he twice slid left to engulf power play one-timers by Stamkos -- a committed shot-blocking effort by the Sabres and a dab of good fortune as Stamkos nicked the pipe with a wrist shot in the second power play.
Myers had to haul down the Lightning's Martin St. Louis as he rushed Miller with the puck on the power play, but Tampa Bay managed one shot on the ensuing two-man advantage. The Lightning was assessed one penalty.
"We had a huge kill in the second," Rolston said, "guys eating pucks and eating shots, outstanding. ... That was the changing point in the game for us in terms of momentum. To keep that game 1-1 going into the third was huge for us."
NOTES: Stamkos extended his goal streak to six games, the longest in the NHL so far this season. ... Stamkos scored his NHL-leading 14th goal of the season in the first period. He extended his point-streak to seven games. ... Lightning center Cory Conacher had his 11th assist to lead rookies. He also leads all rookies with 18 points this season. ... Stamkos leads the league in goals (14) and points (30). ... The Lightning has lost three of its last four. ... Stamkos was named the NHL's second star for the week after producing four goals and four assists in four games. ... Buffalo entered with the fewest points (13) in the Eastern Conference.

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