DETROIT -- It seemed the wall might hold. The Detroit Red Wings kept swinging their hammer -- the one with the gleaming silver chalice at the end of it -- but the Buffalo Sabres refused to crack. They were standing up to the defending Stanley Cup champions, and with just three minutes left they were in position for the upset.
But no wall is impenetrable, especially when it's the Wings wailing away. They finally got close enough for the bursting blow, and they made it count.
Kept away from goaltender Ryan Miller for most of the game, Detroit found itself on the doorstep in the closing minutes. The Red Wings scored twice from close range in a 59-second span, and the Sabres left Joe Louis Arena flattened by a 3-1 loss Saturday.
"Everybody's disappointed in this room," Sabres captain Craig Rivet said. "As much as you can say we were right there throughout the game, we lost. That's the bottom line. To give up a goal with 2 1/2 minutes left against arguably the best team in the league, it's frustrating."
The Red Wings were putting on their typical shooting clinic, with shots coming at Miller on a regular basis. The Sabres, though, had managed to keep most of the Red Wings' 48 attempts from tops of the faceoff circles and higher. By doing that, they were in a 1-1 tie as time ticked away.
Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson changed that. The duo cycled the puck along the boards in the Buffalo zone, and Hudler took a shot from the circle. Samuelsson blocked it at the top of the crease and stepped around Miller with 2:34 to go.
Just 59 seconds later, the game was over. Detroit stars Henrik Zetterberg and Marian Hossa made their presence felt, with Zetterberg setting up Hossa for a one-timer from the slot.
"They're a team that's going to be patient and wait for opportunities, and they capitalized on a couple breakdowns and ended up taking the game," Sabres forward Matt Ellis said.
The Sabres actually had the first chance to capitalize. Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville created a two-on-one with six minutes left, but Hecht's pass was out of his linemate's reach at the top of the crease.
"You bury that we may have the opportunity to win the game," coach Lindy Ruff said.
The result stretched the Red Wings' winning streak to six while snapping the Sabres' run at four.
The Joe was sold out with an announced attendance of 20,066, but only two-thirds made the trek through the snow and ice that plagued Hockeytown and Highway 401 between Buffalo and Detroit. The Sabres rewarded their faithful first.
There should be little doubt which line scored. The trio of Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford has been driving the Sabres no matter the weather, and they connected five minutes into the game. Stafford fed Vanek, who one-touched a cross-ice pass back to Stafford. Goalie Ty Conklin helped break it up, but he couldn't stop Roy from scooping the puck into the net.
The goal was the fifth in five games for Roy, while Vanek ran his point streak to five games. Stafford has points in 12 of the past 17 games, including three straight. The line has 22 points in the past five games.
The Red Wings are the defending champs for a reason, and they struck with three minutes to go in the second. Brett Lebda streaked into the zone and put a drop pass in Hudler's wheelhouse. His one-timer from the slot beat Miller on the stick side, and the game was on.
Miller kept the Sabres in it.
His glove was up to any task, and he squared to the shooter at every opportunity, giving Detroit few open areas.
"That's just what I'm trying to worry about now, square up, challenge, don't be a victim of the play," he said. "These great shooters are going to be able to go where they want. I have to challenge and make them change their mind."
It was the second straight strong game for the Michigan native, who stopped 43 shots in Friday's 2-1 shootout victory over the New York Rangers and finished with 88 on the weekend.
"I've got a lot of friends and family here," Miller said. "It was nice that they got to see some saves, but they come out for the wins."
In that case, Conklin's friends should come out whenever he plays the Sabres. He has six wins in six starts while giving up roughly one goal per game. He stopped 21 shots and got enough help from his offensive-minded teammates.
"They're a good team," Ruff said. "They're probably the best team we've played."e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org