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Miller stops, Buffalo romps… Sabres 5, ‘Canes 1

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For two periods at HSBC Arena last night, the Buffalo Sabres were on autopilot.

The doormat Carolina Hurricanes, who have yet to win a game on the road this season, were nursing a 1-0 lead, thanks to a bad giveaway off a dropped pass courtesy of Tyler Myers early in the game.

Missed opportunities, pucks shot wide. It seemed that the Sabres would have trouble finding the net.

Then Ryan Miller came up with the save of the season, the likes of which Coach Lindy Ruff compared to the old days when Dominik Hasek was in town. “It was Dom-like” said Ruff, not understating that the play was a game changer. “It was great to see people get out of their seats.”

Here was the situation: it was late in the second period and the Sabres were still trying to find their groove in this game. As Carolina was swarming around the net, shorthanded no less, Miller laid sprawled on the ice, and Rob Brind’amour had the puck on the rebound, and nothing but open net in front of him. “I was able to get my feet back under me a bit” said Miller. “It was half stick and half guess.” Nonetheless, Brind’amour’s shot ended up in Miller’s glove, and most of those watching in the building were rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

At the next whistle, the fans rose in a thunderous standing ovation for Miller, and even Miller’s teammates on the bench were tapping their sticks on the boards in support of their goaltender.

That was all the Sabres would need. Come the third period it was a different team out their right off of the opening faceoff. “I think the guys were a little discouraged,” said Miller. “It all comes down to the guys executing on the ice and I thought the guys did a good job of getting the puck to the net.” That they did. Mike Grier scored Buffalo’s first goal two minutes into the frame, and then Clarke MacArthur added a power play goal shortly thereafter to give Buffalo the lead.

Said Mike Grier, “This was like a slap in the face, a wake up call. I think we’re trying to grow up as a group. We shouldn’t need the coach to come in here and yell at us. To a man we said ‘let’s go’. Let’s get something done this period and get these two points. We don’t want to be looking back later on at the end of the year and seeing these points lost.”

Coach Ruff wasn’t unhappy with his team’s performance, despite the lackluster start. “There were things I liked about the second period. I liked the chances we created, we killed penalties which took some of their momentum away, and for the third I said ‘Let’s just go after them. There’s nothing to be afraid of let’s just go after them.’ You have to give the players credit. Even when we got the second one they kept going after it.”

The Sabres find themselves in fifth place in tightly wound eastern conference standings, where only 7 points separate 3rd seed and 13th seed. Mike Grier is convinced that every game is huge, even this early in the season. “Every game is a tough game. There are no easy nights. We want to win our division. Boston and Ottawa are right there they’re winning every night. We’ve got to keep pace and beat those teams below us in the standings.”

Buffalo and their legions of fans painting their faces, waving tin foil Stanley Cups and engaging in obnoxious behavior heads up the QEW this Monday for a showdown with the Toronto Maple Leafs, before returning home Thursday to begin a five game homestand.