After a series of frustrating finishes, Buffalo finally prevailed in a tight game Tuesday night.
Nathan Gerbe recorded an assist and a goal – the eventual game-winner – late in the third period, and Buffalo held off a furious Edmonton rally to beat the Oilers, 4-3, at First Niagara Center.
Buffalo (18-17-4, 40 points), which hadn't played since New Year's Eve, snapped a three-game losing streak with the victory. Jason Pominville, Jordan Leopold also scored, and Drew Stafford had a goal and two assists. Ryan Miller made 23 saves to improve to 6-0-0 lifetime against Edmonton.
The win was just Buffalo's second in eight games (2-5-1).
"We've talked about it enough. Bottom line is guys knew we just needed to go out there and get it done," Stafford said. "It feels good to get those two points. Now, hopefully we can string a few together."
Stafford started an exciting final six minutes when he finished off Derek Roy's centering pass – which had been stalled in the low slot by Gerbe – by cleaning it up past Khabibulin for a 3-2 lead at 14:34.
"I kept whacking at it, and finally got one, got a break," Stafford said. "It's nice to finally get rewarded with a break."
Stafford's high puck clearance flew over the outstretched glove of the Oilers defenseman, allowing Gerbe to sneak in behind and skate in alone on goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. Gerbe skated across the goal and backhanded it up and over Khabibulin’s left shoulder at 16:38 of the third.
That goal made it 4-2, so the Sabres were forced to weather an even later surge from Edmonton. As the puck was scuttling around in front of the crease, Buffalo failed to clear and Corey Potter was in the slot to slam it past Miller for his third of the year with 1:50 to play.
Sam Gagne and Taylor Hall also scored for Edmonton (16-20-3, 38 points), which resumed its skid after a 4-3 win in Chicago on Monday snapped a seven-game losing streak.
As the game neared a close, Buffalo might have capitalized off a depleted Oilers' defense. Already missing veteran Ryan Whitney, Edmonton lost Tom Gilbert – the Oils’ top-scoring defenseman – to a lower-body injury against the Blackhawks.
"We gave Buffalo everything they could handle. It was a winnable game for us," Oilers coach Tom Renney said. "We were very passionate, and we really tried to play within our structure. We didn't quit, and that's as important as anything."
Renney was forced to shuffle his lines after rookie scoring leader Ryan Nugent-Hopkins left the Chicago game with a shoulder injury.
It was a back-and-forth game through two periods. Edmonton, who outshot their opponent 9-0 to start the game, took a lead at 10:33 of the first when Taylor Hall scored his second in as many games. Hall grabbed the puck, carried it down the left side and ripped a wrister from the faceoff dot past Miller's near post.
Buffalo responded through Pominville four minutes later, tying the game heading into the first intermission despite a 14-8 Oiler advantage in shots. Jochen Hecht picked up the puck in his own zone and started a 3-on-2. He laid it off to Pominville, who blasted a shot across Miller, off the right post and in the net.
"We've been talking about the inside ones, and I said, 'We're going to have to get some guys around the crease ... and jump in,'" Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's nice to score some goals."
Stafford's vision gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead at 5:10 of the second. Skating behind the net, Stafford found Leopold to the left of the goal, and the defenseman one-timed it across Khabibulin. Edmonton pulled even on a 5-on-3 through Gagner, who was anchoring Renney's top line with Nugent-Hopkins out. With Patrick Kaleta (charging) and Gerbe (too many men) in the box, the Oilers were holding court in the Sabres' end. Jeff Petry and Gagner exchanged passes at the point, with Gagner blasting the return through Miller to retie the game.
1 - 0 EDM
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 BUF
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 BUF
4 - 2 BUF
4 - 3 BUF
Interference - Goalkeeper