Sabres beat Sharks to snap 6-game losing streak
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – In the final minute of a big win for the Buffalo Sabres, Ryan Miller heard his hometown crowd chant: “USA! USA!”
At that point, Miller knew it was time to focus on the Olympics.
The star goalie made 27 saves in his final tuneup to help the Sabres beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Saturday night.
“I’m glad the puck stayed out,” Miller quipped. “I appreciate that they’re behind me.”
“It was great for him,” added Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, who will be an assistant coach for the Canadian team. “That pushes him off in a real good mood and on the right track. He really wanted to get that win before the break, especially in our own building.”
Paul Gaustad, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville scored in the second period to help Buffalo snap a six-game losing streak.
San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov, also in his last game before joining the Russian Olympic squad, made 25 stops for the Sharks and had his NHL-record 11-game road winning streak snapped. Kent Huskins scored for San Jose.
“I don’t know what happened,” Nabokov said. “We gave up a few odd-man rushes and they took advantage.”
The Sharks had the better chances early in the second period, but Buffalo broke a scoreless deadlock 5 1/2 minutes in when Gaustad charged the net and tucked in a pass from the left corner by Henrik Tallinder.
Buffalo then incurred consecutive penalties but held the Sharks off the board, and then Vanek made it 2-0 with 7 1/2 minutes left. He took a lead pass in the slot, faked to his forehand to get Nabokov out of position, then went to his backhand to flip the puck in.
“That’s the difference in the game,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “If you put one of (the power-play opportunities) in, you’re in good shape. You build it in the game that they’re going to score in the game, but to do that two times in a row really took a lot of life out of us.”
With 2 1/2 minutes remaining, Pominville jammed at a puck along the right post and it deflected off defenseman Niclas Wallin and trickled in.
Nabokov last gave up three goals in a period of a road game on Nov. 27 in Edmonton, but the Sharks won that game in a shootout.
“We had a tough couple of weeks,” said Buffalo F Jochen Hecht, who will represent Germany in the Olympics. “Against one of the best teams in the league, we played in their end a lot. It shows how good a team we have if we’re on our game.”
Huskins ended Miller’s shutout bid 5 1/2 minutes into the final period, recovering an errant puck just outside his own blue line and wristing a shot from the left circle.
The game marked just the fourth time since Jan. 1 that San Jose did not get a goal from any of its top three point producers – Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Patrick Marleau.
In recent weeks, Miller tried to deflect questions about the Olympics, especially before games when he was facing a fellow Vancouver-bound goaltender, which happened five times in a six-game stretch between Jan. 21 and Feb. 1. After this win, it was time for Miller to finally let his guard down.
“I’m looking forward to the tournament and (will) try to have as much fun as possible,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a great experience.”
Miller also felt good about finding the win column again.
“For a while, it didn’t seem like a lot was going quite my way after pretty much nothing went wrong in the first 40 games,” Miller said. “The teams I’ve been with that have performed at the highest levels have always had something to overcome. I’d rather have it now than later.”
NOTES: Buffalo is 13-1 against San Jose at home. … Gaustad snapped a 20-game stretch without a goal. … Nabokov’s last road loss was Nov. 15 at Chicago. … Seven of San Jose’s 13 regulation losses have been by at least three goals. … The Sharks ended their six-game road trip with a 4-2 record. They also went 4-2 during their other six-gamer in October.