The Buffalo Sabres had little in the tank in the third period of the back end of back-to-back games. They did have Ryan Miller and that proved to be enough.
Miller made 39 saves for his second shutout in as many nights and Drew Stafford capitalized on a San Jose turnover to score the only goal in the Sabres 1-0 victory over the Sharks on Thursday night.
“It’s unbelievable to see a guy be this good in net,” forward Tyler Ennis said. “You never think a guy can be that good and make that many saves, but he does.”
Stafford scored his 13th goal late in the first period and Miller made the lead stand as the Sabres earned at least one point in a season-high seventh straight game to move into 10th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind Winnipeg for the final playoff spot.
Antti Niemi made 18 saves for the Sharks but got no help from his offense, which pressured Miller throughout the third period but was unable to get one past the Buffalo star.
“I knew we’d probably be a little tired,” Miller said. “It was a great job by our guys to show some fight in the first period and get a lead and we could battle from there.”
Miller made 82 saves to post shutouts on consecutive nights for the second time in his career, also doing it Dec. 3-4, 2010, against Columbus and Ottawa. Miller has 27 career shutouts, including five this season.
He spent much of the third period sprawled on his back as the Sharks peppered the net with shots. His best play might have come when he broke up a pass from TJ Galiardi to fellow newcomer Daniel Winnik midway through the third.
“I just had a feeling,” Miller said. “He took himself out of shooting situation. I thought he’s going to pass. He doesn’t have the angle to get around me with the backhand. He didn’t set it up well enough so I thought he would try something, so I just took the chance.”
Miller got shaken up when teammate Patrick Kaleta ran into him, but stayed in the game to help the Sabres hold on despite being outshot 28-9 over the final two periods.
“Miller is a world-class goalie and whatever he sees, he usually stops,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. “I don’t think we had enough traffic in front of him tonight. I thought we had the better of the chances tonight, just for whatever reason we couldn’t score.”
The Sharks got a goal from Ryane Clowe 1:22 into a 1-0 win over the Flyers on Tuesday night, but were held off the scoreboard after that and remained in a funk that started on a 2-6-1 road trip.
San Jose missed a chance to tie Phoenix for the Pacific Division lead and has just a three-point lead over Los Angeles and Colorado for the final playoff spot in the West.
Despite outshooting Buffalo 22-14 through the first two periods, the Sharks were unable to generate many good scoring chances against Miller—even though the Sabres were coming off a game in Anaheim the previous night. San Jose managed to put some pressure on Miller during their first power play late in the period, but Miller made a key save with Thornton crashing the net to preserve the 1-0 lead.
“He looked real comfortable,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “When he’s quiet and he’s not very active. He just looked totally under control, and again tonight. He was right there reading the plays, making a lot of saves look pretty easy.”
The Sabres struck after a bad turnover late in the first period by Brent Burns. Tyler Ennis took Burns’ errant pass at the Buffalo blue line and headed the other direction on a 3-on-2 advantage. He fed Stafford, who beat Niemi with a wrist shot with 1:09 left in the first period.
“It was a soft play through the neutral zone and I think the receiver wasn’t looking for it either,” assistant Matt Shaw said. “But it was a soft play up the middle.”
Notes: The Sabres, who play a league-high 21 back-to-back games, got their third sweep in 18 sets so far this season. … Sharks coach Todd McLellan missed his second consecutive game with concussion symptoms after being hit in the head by a stick Sunday in Minnesota. … Buffalo D Robyn Regehr left in the second period with a lower-body injury after a hit from Patrick Marleau. … Sharks All-Star F Logan Couture missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury, while F Dominic Moore returned after missing four games with a lower-body injury. … San Jose had its 100th consecutive sellout.