COLUMBUS, Ohio — Surprise, surprise. The NHL’s worst team met the league’s hottest team Saturday night in Nationwide Arena with very unexpected results.
Riding more white-hot goaltending from Ryan Miller and getting short-handed goals from Christian Ehrhoff and Marcus Foligno, the Buffalo Sabres stunned the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-2, before a crowd of 16,272.
The Blue Jackets entered the contest on a franchise-record, eight-game winning streak. The Sabres, meanwhile, had dropped five straight, going 0-3-2 in that span, and had won just one of their previous 13 road games. In the end, they produced perhaps their signature win of the season.
“It’s pretty cool,” said center Cody Hodgson, who assisted on Steve Ott’s third-period goal and then added an empty netter with 1:51 left. “They’ve been one of the hottest teams in the NHL this month. It feels nice to win. It doesn’t matter who it’s against. But it feels extra sweeter being a little bit of a spoiler.”
The victory marked the first time all season the Sabres have scored five goals in regulation. It was just their second road regulation win.
Goaltending was the difference as Buffalo survived despite being outshot, 38-22.
Miller was often brilliant in making 36 saves while Columbus starter Sergei Bobrovsky was brutal. Bobrovsky allowed three goals on 10 shots and the last two, the short-handed goals by Ehrhoff and Foligno, were out-and-out whiffs with his glove hand. It marked the first time since 2007 the Sabres had two shorties in a game.
“I thought he was sensational again and we had some luck on our side,” interim coach Ted Nolan said of Miller. “When he’s on, you don’t see too much better goaltending anywhere.”
Bobrovsky was 9-0 in his last nine starts with a 1.80 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. But he missed Ehrhoff’s drive from the blue line with 29.5 seconds left in the first that snapped a 1-1 tie, and was pulled after he flubbed Foligno’s shot at 3:28 of the second period.
The Ehrhoff goal was a killer as Columbus fumbled the puck in its end and Bobrovsky sent a clearing pass near the blue line that Ehrhoff one-timed back into the net.
“They had some problems communicating with the goalie,” said Ehrhoff, who added two assists for his first three-point night of the season. “He made the pass up and I jumped on it, just tried to get it on net as hard as I could. It changed direction a few times I think. It went straight in. It was a ‘knucklepuck’ and I don’t think he knew where it was going.”
Buffalo’s first goal was also a softie, as Matt Ellis’ 30-foot backhander eluded Bobrovsky at 2:21 of the first period. Right after that goal, Miller made two in-tight stops to keep the Sabres in front and set a tone for his night.
“You want to keep that lead,” Miller said. “You want to keep the guys feeling good. You don’t want it to turn into a situation where they feel they’ve done something good and it gets negated too quickly.”
In addition to the short-handed goals, the Sabres did an excellent job on the penalty kill overall. They stopped Columbus on all four penalties – allowing just one shot on goal.
The Sabres lost two forwards in the game with upper-body injuries. Ville Leino left in the second period after a hard hit by Jack Johnson, took one more shift and was then gone for the night.
Drew Stafford, meanwhile, left in the third period and did not return.
Nolan had no updates on either player but did acknowledge it might be a longshot they would be available to play Monday night in Pittsburgh.
As is customary, the Foligno brothers got together the night before a meeting. But Friday night’s gathering in the home of Columbus winger Nick Foligno was a special one for Marcus Foligno because it was the first time he has met his niece.
Milana Foligno, the daughter of Nick and his wife Janelle, was diagnosed with a rare heart condition after she was born in October but is on the road to recovery after major surgery in Boston in November.
“It was really good. I got to see my niece finally,” Marcus Foligno said prior to the game. “It was a lot of smiles all around. She’s a beautiful little girl and it was good to finally meet her. She’s still tiny but it’s going well.”
Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel played 16:09 and had a team-high five blocked shots in his season debut after getting recalled from Rochester. He replaced Alexander Sulzer in the lineup. Linus Omark and John Scott were also healthy scratches.