I really only have to write two words to describe last night’s game against Montreal, and that they would be sufficient enough to explain the entire contest. Those two words would be Ryan Miller. I think that I could end this blog entry right now, but in respect for those of you who weren’t able to catch last night’s game, I’ll continue writing.
While the rest his teammates forgot how to play hockey for a period and a half, Miller was the only constant the entire game for Buffalo. He was peppered with shots from all different angles, areas and directions, frustrating Canadien shooters as he came up with save after amazing save. Miller put on a goaltending clinic last night, and it would be a no-brainer to say that Buffalo would not have come out with 2 points in Montreal last night without their star goaltender.
While Miller was stealing the show north of the border, the rest of the team was having difficulties keeping up with a team hungry to score their first victory at home. Montreal outskated Buffalo thoroughly, and outshot them in the first period 14-3. It was painful to watch for Sabres fans, as it was obvious that something would have to give at some point. Miller could only do so much without the help of his teammates.
At 2:08 into the second period, Montreal was finally able to get on the scoreboard. Receiving a pass just inside the blue line and nothing but ice ahead of him, defenseman Raphael Diaz skated toward the Buffalo net, getting Miller to commit to the shot. He then skated around a sprawling Miller to his right and was able to find the back of the net for his first career NHL goal. The Montreal fans went nets, and for good reason as it seemed like they should have already been winning big-time.
The goal seemed to wake up a team that looked like they were day-dreaming in the Sabres, as they began to get more opportunities in their offensive zone. The added effort resulted in their first goal of the night. Drew Stafford broke the puck out of the defensive zone on the right hand side of the ice, cutting to his left in the neutral zone to avoid a Montreal player, who continued to dog him all the way into the offensive zone. Stafford cut into the left circle with the puck on his backhand, throwing the puck at the net. Montreal goaltender Carey Price made the save, but the rebound jumped right onto the stick of Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold, who jumped up into the play. Leopold made no mistake, blasting the puck into the net at 12:11 to even the score.
Just like that, it was a tie game, despite the fact that Buffalo had been out played in all aspects of the game, save goaltending. Montreal continued to outshoot the Sabres in the period, ending the middle frame with a 30-15 advantage, but the opportunistic Sabres were able to find the back of the net once more before the end of the period.
A seemingly innocent icing by the Canadiens gave Buffalo a faceoff in their offensive zone with 5.9 seconds left in the second period. Paul Gaustad took the draw, and won it to his left to Marc-Andre Gragnani. Gragnani took the puck and fed it behind him to Jason Pominville. The captain then sent a cross ice pass to Thomas Vanek, who was camped out just above the faceoff dot at the left circle. Price came out to the top of his crease to challenge the shot, and seemed to have a good angle on the shooter, but Vanek fired an incredible shot that found the top right hand corner of the net. It was a perfectly executed play, and it gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
In the waning minutes of the third period, Price was pulled in favor of an extra attacker for the Canadiens, who were doing everything in their power to find the back of the net. Unfortunately for them, Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff was able to control the puck amidst the chaos and fire it all the way down the ice with deadly accuracy, as it found the back of the net for his first goal of the season.
It was the capper on an incredible performance by Ryan Miller. Not only was it the best performance of the season for him, I would be so bold as to say that it may have been the best performance of his entire career. It was a sight to behold; Miller finished with 40 saves on 41 shots, and was rewarded with 2 points and was named the first star of the game. His performance propelled Buffalo to 4-1-0 on the season. With the loss, Montreal drops to 1-3-1, and they are still searching for that elusive first victory at home.
Buffalo will now journey down south to Florida to take on the Panthers on Thursday. Florida was one of the major players in free agency this past offseason, and as a result they are a much more competitive team this season, and they will give the Sabres a run for their money. Tune in on Thursday for a preview of that matchup, as I will look more in depth at the offseason acquisitions that the Panthers have made to improve their team, as well as give some keys to victory for both teams.