OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Senators were moving forward -- just not fast enough for their liking -- in an attempt to keep pace with the playoff spot holders in their conference.
A 40-save performance by goalie Craig Anderson and another clutch goal from center Zack Smith gave them a bigger boost Thursday night.
Smith scored his team-leading third game winner of the season at 6:39 of the second period and Anderson stopped all 17 shots he faced in the third as the Senators defeated the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 at Canadian Tire Centre.
The victory moved the Senators (13-14-6) to within three points of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who currently hold the last wild-card spot. The Sabres (7-23-2) are dead last in the overall standings.
"It feels like the last few games we're getting a bit of traction with (four) points in the last three games," said Smith, referring to the Senators' 1-0-2 record the past week. "This is big for our confidence and it keeps us in the race. We've had trouble putting a few wins together. It's a learning curve. You have to come the next day and know it's going to be hard. We're picking up on that right now."
Winger Bobby Ryan had the other Senators goal, while he also chipped in with an assist for a two-point night. Center Kyle Turris also had a pair of points, with two assists, for Ottawa.
Center Tyler Ennis scored for the Sabres, who have been trouble generating any offense this season. Their 54 goals in 32 games is by far the lowest total of any team in the league, and their average of 26 shots per game is second worst.
"It's frustrating, it felt like one of those nights you could have had three or four (but) Anderson played well," said Ennis, whose team had 36 shots against the Senators during a 2-1 victory Tuesday in Buffalo. "Scoring goals is hard. The good thing is we're getting chances. If we weren't getting chances, that would be disappointing. It's odds. When you keep putting the puck at the net, good chances are going to happen. Maybe next game we'll get five or six."
Smith, who has just five goals on the season, roofed a shot just under the cross bar to break the deadlock.
Anderson took care of the rest, making a late-game breakaway save off winger Drew Stafford to go with the breakaway stop he made on center Steve Ott in the first.
"We battled to the very end," said Anderson, whose team killed off a penalty to winger Milan Michalek with 2:03 to play in the third. "We did the little things that created an opportunity for us to win that game. We'll take the two points. We can be satisfied. We've got to look forward and get ready for the next opponent."
That will be a tough test, as the Los Angeles Kings visit Ottawa for an afternoon game Saturday.
The Sabres, meanwhile, will also try to build off a performance they felt good about when they host the Calgary Flames Saturday.
"I think it was one of our better efforts, honestly," said Miller, who made 30 saves. "They're going to be showing us a little more after losing in our building. They had more energy, more time to prepare (than the game in Buffalo, when the Senators had played the night before). I thought we had the energy, we had some jump, we were creating. We just couldn't quite get it all to click."
Buffalo was 1-for-5 with the man advantage while the Ottawa power play was 0-for-3.
Ryan opened the scoring with his team-leading 15th of the season at 9:22 of the opening period. From the left wing, offensive-zone faceoff circle, he sent a backhand pass through the slot that failed to find the stick of winger Cory Conacher. The puck was retrieved by Turris, who sent it back into the middle, where Ryan was cruising between two Buffalo defenders. He finished the bang-bang play by one-timing a shot into a wide-open side of the Sabres cage.
Ennis tied the game a little more than eight minutes later with the Sabres on a power play. From behind the net, he stepped out to Anderson's left, then jammed a shot between the goalie's skates for his seventh goal of the season.
NOTES: Sabres C Cody Hodgson missed his first game of the season with a "lower-body injury" he sustained in Tuesday's game against Ottawa. Hodgson is Buffalo's second-leading scorer, with eight goals and 10 assists in 31 games. ... Senators D Joe Corvo was playing the 700th game of his career. The 11th anniversary of his first is Saturday, when Ottawa hosts his original team, the Los Angeles Kings. "I remember it, I was playing against Mario Lemieux," said Corvo. "I was in a little over my head." ... Senators D Jared Cowen served the first of a two-game suspension he received for an illegal hit to the head of Sabres W Zemgus Girgensons Tuesday. Senators D Marc Methot (flu) was also unable to play, forcing the team to call up D Cody Ceci for his first NHL game. Ceci, an Ottawa native, was the Senators' first-round pick (15th overall) in the 2012 entry draft. ... Sabres LW Matt Moulson is 3-for-3 in shootouts this season and his career 63.2 percent success rate (12-for-19) leads all active NHLers who have had at least three shootout chances.