MONTREAL — Thomas Vanek was back. Ryan Miller was back to being himself. The combination created another victory for the Buffalo Sabres, who feel things are finally turning in their direction.
The Sabres earned a 2-1 victory over Montreal on Saturday, their second win in Bell Centre in five days. It’s an impressive feat considering the Canadiens entered the night on runs of 14-1-4 and 6-0-1.
“They’re a great hockey team, and to be able to come in here and get two wins is really good for our hockey team, a positive sign,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said.
There have been plenty of good omens lately in Sabreland. Buffalo has won three straight to enhance runs of 4-1-1 and 7-3-3. The Sabres pulled within two points of eighth-place Carolina with two extra games played.
“We’re getting wins, and we’re still not playing our absolute best,” center Tyler Ennis said. “We’re making strides and coming hard and improving every day, but we’ve still got more. That’s exciting.”
The best part for the Sabres during their latest victory was the players who keyed it. Vanek scored both goals after sitting out one game with a hip injury, while Miller stopped 38 shots to quell a personal slide.
The goaltender was 1-3-2 in his previous six starts with a 3.56 goals-against average and .876 save percentage. He forgot all about that and quieted the 21,273 fans who mockingly chanted his name.
“I was happy with that,” Miller said. “It’s been a little bit of a tough go the last few weeks, so I needed to start collecting myself and give the guys a chance to get these kinds of wins.”
Despite the gaudy save total, Miller had help. Montreal had 85 shot attempts to just 31 for Buffalo, but the Sabres blocked 31 shots. Mike Weber got in the way of eight, and fellow defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr blocked four each.
“Millsie did a good job for us, and our D corps was really good around our net,” Rolston said. “We have a ways to go, but guys can feel now that the momentum they’re building is in the right direction.”
The Sabres’ main success in the opening 29 minutes was keeping the game scoreless despite a major discrepancy in zone time. The Habs had a 19-6 shot advantage as goaltender Carey Price stood alone at the end of the rink for long stretches.
Back-to-back penalties by Montreal changed everything. Buffalo cashed in on the five-on-three to take a 1-0 lead. Ehrhoff’s rocket from the point got tipped by Vanek, struck the inside of the post and tickled twine with 9:35 to go in the second period.
The Sabres have scored on the power play in four straight games after suffering through an 8-for-95 drought.
“Five-on-three, you have to score, and we did a good job,” Vanek said. “Christian had a good shot, I had a good tip on it, and that’s the lead we needed at that point in the game.”
The goal got the Sabres moving. They took eight of the final 12 shots in the second and doubled their lead just before intermission.
Ennis spotted Vanek ready to cross in front, and the sniper kept going along the top of the crease after accepting the pass. He got Price down, then dumped the puck into the net with 38.3 seconds left to stun the Habs and their fans.
A trip to the box again turned momentum, with Montreal taking advantage this time. With Marcus Foligno in the box for tripping, Michael Ryder got wide open in front of the Buffalo net and tipped Andrei Markov’s point shot with 11:43 left. The crowd exploded and got ready for a tense finish.
The Sabres held them off as Miller stopped 15 shots in the third. They flew to Florida for upcoming games against Tampa Bay and Florida buoyed by the victory.
“The guys in here have been building up to something for this whole year,” Miller said. “We went through a really, really dark kind of time, and something had to come from it.”