|Maxim Afinogenov scored with 2:17 left in the third period to lift the Sabres to a 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders.|
The Atlantic Division basement dwellers completely outplayed the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum, but Ryan Miller made 42 saves and handed the Isles their seventh loss in eight games.
''We did everything but score,'' Islanders captain Bill Guerin said. ''We have the hard work part down, but it's still a loss.''
Buffalo, meanwhile, has won four straight games and pulled even with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. The victory improved the Sabres’ record to 17-14-1.
They managed to skate away with two points despite losing two centers during the contest. Derek Roy went down with a shoulder injury in the first period (X-rays were negative), while the flu bug hit Tim Connolly, forcing the latter to leave during the third.
''(Roy) had what you'd call a nerve stinger, and we decided to hold him out the rest of the game. Tim is just sick,'' Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. ''We've lost these kind of games in the past. When you lose your top two centers, and they're your playmaking centers, you have to win some games ugly. That was probably the most shots we've allowed in a while.''
Fortunately for the Sabres, Miller was there to carry the load. The Buffalo netminder’s lone blemish was a rare goal from Islanders’ defenseman Brendan Witt on a play where Miller appeared to be screened. The tally came 3:50 into the third period ( 700K ), as Miller stopped 27 shots through the first two frames.
"You get a few shots, and you start to feel more comfortable out there," Miller said. "The goal that got by, I was putting up my glove in a defensive position, and I didn't see the puck until it was too late."
Prior to the injury, Roy had given the Sabres a 1-0 lead when he tallied his 13th goal of the season 6:11 into the contest ( 700K ). Roy collected his own rebound after his initial shot went off Isles defenseman Freddy Meyer, and his second chance went off the left leg of Rick DiPietro before crossing the goal line. It was Buffalo’s first shot of the game and one of only five in the opening period.
Witt finally solved Miller early in the third. After the first 29 New York shots failed to find the back of the net, Witt took advantage of a screen set up in front by Sean Bergenheim as his shot through a crowd found its way past Miller to make it 1-1. The play was set up by defenseman Radek Martinek, who negated a Buffalo clearing attempt at the blue line.
"It was a great screen by Bergenheim and Marty keeping it in the zone," Witt said. "I just put it on net and Miller deflected it in for me. He probably should have had it."
The game seemed destined for overtime until a bad break late in the third period cost the Islanders dearly. Just as a high sticking penalty to Meyer expired, Maxim Afinogenov was able to one-time a shot past DiPietro with just 2:17 to play ( 700K ). Only seconds before the tally, Witt broke his stick, which gave Afinogenov a clear lane to shoot.
"We played the game we wanted to play. We played smart," DiPietro said. "Buffalo's bread and butter is their power play. You don't want to get to the box too many times. Unfortunately it ended up costing us at the end."
The Islanders – who are at the .500 mark (15-15-2) for the first time since opening night – will look to regroup on Friday night when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nolan is confident that his team can snap out of its offensive funk if it continues to pepper the net the way the Isles did on Wednesday.
"The one thing you're looking for is effort," Nolan said. "Tonight we certainly had the effort. We wanted to have an honest effort, play hard and get some shots to the net. We did that tonight. Miller made some great saves and once in a while a goalie has to steal a game. Tonight, Miller stole the game."
Material from wire services and team media were used in this report.