Thomas Vanek struck twice on the power play and Ryan Miller made 29 saves as the Sabres earned a 4-1 victory against the Ducks at a sold-out Hartwall Arena. While many of the 13,349 in attendance where there to cheer for local legend Teemu Selanne and national-team hero Saku Koivu, it was another Jokerit alumni, Buffalo's Ville Leino, who ended up with the game-winning goal.
"It was a good start, definitely," new Buffalo captain Jason Pominville said. "To be honest I thought Anaheim got off to a good start, but [Miller] made some pretty good saves. I think our power play after that was able to move around pretty good and get some goals. It was nice to play with a lead and be able to play good with it and limit their Grade A scoring chances by keeping them to the outside."
Anaheim's big line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan spent a lot of time in the Buffalo zone but didn't muster much from it. Jonas Hiller made 21 saves in his first full game since February and played well at times, but the momentum-killing goal for Buffalo was one he should have had.
The fans came to see Selanne and hung on his every move, but his line was shut down by Miller and Buffalo's sturdy blue-line corps.
"It was a very special week," Selanne said. "The people here were outstanding. Even tonight, they were great. It was great to see Finnish fans enjoying and being part of the games. All in all, it was an excellent trip."
After Vanek put Buffalo in front, Leino excited what had been mostly a pro-Anaheim crowd by making it a 2-0 game. Leino played for Jokerit, the local team that calls Hartwall home, before coming to the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008-09.
Leino is not Helsinki-born and Jokerit-trained like Selanne, but he did score 28 goals and 77 points in his one season playing for Jokerit, finishing second in the SM-liiga in scoring.
He signed a six-year, $27 million contract with Buffalo this summer, and a headline in a local newspaper this week read "27 miljoonan paineet," which translates roughly to "27 million reasons to feel pressure." But Leino's tenure in Buffalo is off to a strong start.
Anaheim got one goal back on a wrist shot from near the Ducks' bench by defenseman Nate Guenin at 4:32 of the second period. It floated past several bodies before finding the back of the net.
The goal was the first of Guenin's NHL career. He's played a total of 17 NHL games before this season with stints in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Columbus. It was also the first point for Maxime Macenauer, who was making his NHL debut.
Pominville helped the Sabres regain control of the game just 73 seconds later. He wheeled a shot from inside the right circle, and Hiller got a piece of the puck but it trickled by him and across the goal line.
"I thought we got going in the second period, we started to grind and got a goal off a face-off, and then come back down one shift later or two shifts later and score a goal," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.
Vanek added a second extra-man tally at 11:59, and for the second time he scored from the edge of the goal crease. He's reached 40 in his career twice, but averaged just 30 in the past two seasons, though Vanek did have five goals in the team's first-round loss to Philadelphia in April.
Anaheim applied all the pressure in the final 20 minutes, but Buffalo did not break. The Ducks had the puck in the offensive zone for much of the period, and outshot the Sabres 11-0.
Buffalo's Nathan Gerbe took the puck to the net once late in the period, but otherwise Hiller didn't have much to do. Miller didn't have many tough saves to make, either. Buffalo added Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff this offseason, and the two veterans paired with Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold to form a stifling top four.
"I thought they did a really nice job," Miller said of his new teammates. "They had a couple good blocks, some good sticks. Christian got a couple penalties there for being hard, but I think they were going down a little easier. He was playing hard and Robyn was playing hard, and when you keep that up guys don't want to come to the front of the net so that was good."
Added Pominville: "We didn't have that many opportunities in the third and they moved it around pretty good. They're top line is pretty agile and pretty good with the puck when they turn their backs and protect it. That's when we have to collapse and maybe over-collapse and I thought we did a good job of keeping them to the outside."
Both teams were on the move after the game Friday night -- Buffalo was off to Berlin to face the Los Angeles Kings while Anaheim was en route to Stockholm to face the New York Rangers.
While the Ducks were feted all week by adoring Finnish fans, they are likely to receive a cooler reception Saturday night at Globe Arena, where the fans will chant "Hen-rik" for Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist instead of "Tee-mu."
"Obviously it wasn't the way we usually prepare for the season and there was a lot of things going on, but this was an experience that will be good memories for the rest of our lives," Koivu said. "We had a lot of fun this week, and the result of the game wasn't what we wanted, but it is the first game of an 82-game season and there is a long way to go."
The Sabres will bring a few hundred fans who have been following them all week with them to Berlin, but many more will be waiting there, especially to see Ehrhoff and injured forward Jochen Hecht.
This is a season of incredible expectations for the Sabres, who spent heavily this offseason to find a place among the Eastern Conference's elite.
"We came out hard, and we moved the puck well in the first period," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "We got ourselves in a little bit of trouble when we started turning some pucks over. For the most part, we were pretty solid, and played a good game."