NEWARK, N.J. – Jhonas Enroth was just more than a minute away from his first victory in 16 months. Suddenly, he couldn't move his right leg and had to be helped to the Buffalo Sabres' dressing room as New Jersey's fans celebrated a tying goal.
It turned out the only thing injured was Enroth's pride.
The Buffalo backup goaltender cramped up near the end of his first start in more than a month, ending a night filled with highlight-reel, confidence-boosting saves. He was in the back when the Devils completed a stunning rally by beating Ryan Miller and the Sabres in a shootout, 3-2.
“I was so close,” said Enroth, who hasn't won in 15 appearances dating to November 2011. “I'm very disappointed. I don't know what to say. I've just got to come back here and try to get better, I guess.”
Enroth's night – and the Sabres' 2-1 lead – came to an end with 1:06 to play in regulation. Enroth kicked David Clarkson's shot from the point directly to a driving Patrik Elias. The goalie dived across the crease to try to get in the way, but the puck went in as the fans in Prudential Center roared.
Enroth stayed on the ice, but it wasn't in disappointment over allowing the tying goal. He needed to be helped to the dressing room by athletic trainer Tim Macre, unable to put any weight on his right leg.
He allowed two goals on 29 shots, but both came in the final 6:30 as the Sabres' 2-0 lead transformed into a 0-1-2 slide.
“Those are the games we've got to close,” captain Jason Pominville said. “There's no excuses for it. We've got to find a way to close those games.”
Miller stopped four shots in the final minute and overtime. David Clarkson and Elias beat him in the shootout while Thomas Vanek and Pominville failed in their attempts for Buffalo.
The loss and Enroth's early departure overshadowed what had been a memorable night.
The Sabres' power play struck for the second time in as many games as Vanek opened the scoring midway through the second.
Buffalo doubled its lead with 10:04 left in regulation as Brian Flynn earned a prized souvenir.
Andrej Sekera's point shot hit a body in front, and Flynn promptly whacked the deflection toward Johan Hedberg. The goalie got a piece of the shot with his pad but not enough to keep it from going through his legs to start a celebration.
Marcus Foligno and Christian Ehrhoff both went after the puck, then joined the hugs and fist taps as smiles radiated for Flynn's first NHL goal.
“At the time it was awesome,” Flynn said, “but it doesn't feel as good now after losing the game that way.”
The Devils started to put a damper on Enroth's welcome-back party with 6:30 to play. With Ehrhoff in the box for holding, fellow defenseman Mike Weber got in the way of Adam Henrique's close-range blast. As Weber hit the ice in pain, Henrique picked up the puck and ripped it high into the net.
Enroth was feeling tight as the 17,625 fans partied.
“I was cramping pretty much the whole third period there,” said Enroth, who is 0-10-2 in his last 12 decisions, including a loss in his previous start Feb. 5 in Ottawa. “I've got to take a little more care of my body when I'm playing. I haven't been playing in a while, so I probably should have been drinking more water and Gatorade and stuff like that before the game.”
Hedberg made 23 saves to end his seven-game winless streak and send the Sabres into Sunday's game in Philadelphia with a three-game slide.
“We would have liked to have a better outcome, but we're doing things a lot better as a team,” said Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston, who liked his first look at Enroth. “It was a hard outcome for him, but life's hard. He's got to bounce back. I know he will. I liked what he did. He made some huge saves for us.”