The Buffalo Sabres were exhausted. They were bruised. They could hardly keep their bodies upright. But they had enough energy to do one last thing.
After the final buzzer sounded, the players quickly skated to the crease to congratulate goaltender Ryan Miller.
He deserved their praise.
Miller backstopped the Sabres to a 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Monday, turning aside 43 shots to help the Sabres to a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal. Miller stopped 16 shots in the second period and 15 in the third as the Senators desperately tried to tie the game.
"Personally I wanted to bounce back, and I think our team did, too," said Miller, who gave up six goals in Buffalo's 7-6 victory in Game One. "We did a good job."
The best-of-seven series comes to Buffalo on Wednesday and Thursday in what promises to be an insane HSBC Arena. The Sabres are 11-1 when opening a 2-0 lead in a series, and the Senators are 0-4 when falling behind by an 0-2 margin.
"We feel great doing it, but we know it's a seven-game series," Miller said. "We have to be good. We have to be very good. That team showed good determination tonight when they were down, and I'm sure they're going to show the same fight, the same spirit. We're going to have to have our game."
Miller's finest save came with just 2:38 left. Senators center Jason Spezza had a breakaway, and he beat Miller through the pads. But the goalie swung his left leg and hit the puck, which came to rest just an inch from crossing the line. The 19,816 fans in Scotiabank Place gasped in disbelief at the scoreboard replay.
"I knew it hit me in the leg," Miller said. "I didn't think I got lucky enough to keep it out."
The Sabres said most of the saves had nothing to do with luck. They like when Miller is questioned, as he was after the opener.
"He's very, very competitive," said Sabres left wing Jochen Hecht, who returned from injury and scored to put the Sabres ahead, 2-0, early in the second period. "He doesn't want to give up any goals. There was signs of how good he was going to be, and he gave us a lot of confidence."
Added Sabres left wing Ales Kotalik: "He did some fabulous stops that kept us in the game. When you get those kinds of saves from your goalie, you've got to win the game for him."
The Sabres had to win with a shortened bench after losing center Tim Connolly just 58 seconds after the opening faceoff.
He was carrying the puck in the left side of the neutral zone and had defenseman Zdeno Chara ahead of him. Connolly cut toward center ice, and Ottawa left wing Peter Schaefer came across and leveled Connolly across the jaw.
Connolly took nearly two minutes to get up, and his eyes were glazed over on the television broadcast. The immediate thoughts turned to a concussion, which sidelined him for the 2003-04 season, but Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said the center should be back for Game Three.
Connolly declined to comment while making his way to the bus, but his focus seemed to have returned.
"We anticipate him playing," Ruff said. "He feels pretty good right now."
The Sabres opened the scoring with their most effective maneuver in the series: an odd-man rush. The Senators said all weekend they needed to prevent tap-in goals, but that's all J.P. Dumont had to do after getting a return pass from Daniel Briere at the doorstep.
The goal at 3:33 of the second came on the Sabres' first shot of the period, and their second shot established the series' first two-goal lead. Hecht stripped defenseman Chris Phillips at the Sabres' blue line for a breakaway. He put goalie Ray Emery to the ice with a little move to the left and slipped a shot through the legs six minutes in.
Phillips atoned just 1:40 later. Bryan Smolinski won a faceoff in the Sabres' zone and pushed it back to Phillips. His shot from the blue line brushed the Sabres' Mike Grier and beat Miller between the pads.
But that was it for the Senators, who allowed just 17 shots.
"We were pretty resilient," Sabres co-captain Chris Drury said. "Obviously, Ryan Miller had an unbelievable night. But we all kind of hung in there together."e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org