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Canucks send Sabres to 14th straight loss

by Kevin Woodley /

VANCOUVER - Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller admitted it was strange to look down at the other end of the rink and see the Buffalo Sabres jersey he wore for most of his career.

Playing against the Sabres for the first time, Miller made 20 saves and finally got some goal support from a struggling offense in the Canucks' 5-2 victory against Buffalo at Rogers Arena on Friday.

"I'm not going to lie, it was a little bit weird looking down the ice and seeing that jersey," said Miller, who was picked in the fifth round (No. 138) in the 1999 NHL Draft by Buffalo and played parts of his first 11 seasons there before being traded to the St. Louis Blues late last season and signing in Vancouver as a free agent last summer. "But it just turns into a hockey game and you want to win, you want to compete."

After being shut out in each of the past two games at home and falling behind early Friday, the Canucks found a tonic for their offensive struggles in the slumping Sabres. Bo Horvat scored with 24 seconds left in the first period, and Yannick Weber and Nick Bonino had power-play goals 2:36 apart early in the second to spark the comeback win.

"It may not have started the way we wanted it to, but by the end of it I thought we were playing really well," Horvat said. "In the second period we started to turn it on. We were happy to get that one."

Chris Higgins and Radim Vrbata, into an empty net, added third-period goals to help Vancouver (27-17-3) snap a two-game losing streak.

"It feels good," Higgins said after ending an 11-game goal drought. "Obviously it's been a while. The game's not all about scoring, but I have to produce at a better clip for our team to go a long way."

The Sabres aren't going anywhere.

Chris Stewart scored twice for last-place Buffalo (14-33-3), which has lost 14 straight games, all in regulation. It's the longest losing streak in the NHL since 2003; the Sabres are three shy of matching the NHL record set by the expansion 1974-75 Washington Capitals and matched by the second-year San Jose Sharks in 1992-93.

"It stings for sure," Stewart said. "It's disgusting if you think about it. It's not from a lack of effort. Teams kick when you're down and they're not going to take it easy on you. No one wants to be the team that gives up that losing streak to you."

If there was a bright spot for the Sabres, it was the return of goalie Matt Hackett, who played his first NHL game since blowing out his right knee in the second-to-last game last season, requiring major surgery to repair torn MCL and ACL ligaments.

For Hackett, just getting back to the NHL was a milestone.

"When I felt that pop, as a goalie you think your career could be done," Hackett said. "So I was kind of scared."

Hackett was also nervous about playing the Canucks; not because of his knee, but because he was facing Miller, a player he grew up admiring.

"Honestly I have been looking up to [Miller] since I was a kid," said Hackett, who got the start after No. 1 goaltender Jhonas Enroth played against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday. "I think [Miller] is one of the best goalies I've ever seen, so I was pretty nervous to face him. But not so much the knee, I wasn't worried about that. I know physically it's there. It's not at any risk of breaking again."

The Canucks tested that confidence with lots of chances. Hackett made 33 saves but it wasn't enough to prevent Buffalo from finishing 0-12-0 in January, the worst pointless month in franchise history.

Sabres coach Ted Nolan agreed it seemed almost inconceivable to go an entire month without picking up at least one point.

"It really is but when things go bad, things go bad," Nolan said. "Every time we make a mistake it seems to be in our net."

Stewart opened the scoring on a power play four minutes into the first period with a nifty play in front of Miller. It was the fifth straight game that the Sabres have scored the first goal and Hackett, who returned to the American Hockey League Jan. 10, kept the Sabres ahead with a remarkable save off Shawn Matthias on the backdoor.

Horvat put Vancouver on the board late in the first period, ending the Canucks' scoreless drought on home ice at 195 minutes, 57 seconds by banging in a rebound of Zack Kassian's wraparound attempt.

Weber put the Canucks ahead when the Sabres misplayed a power-play rush 1:43 into the second period. Bonino, who was added to the top power-play unit this week amid a 2-for-28 funk, batted a loose puck out of the air to make it 3-1 on the next power play.

"I put that on myself," said Sabres captain Brian Gionta, who was in the penalty box for interference when Bonino scored. "Bad penalty and it cost us the game. These are just tough to swallow.

Stewart closed the gap with his second goal, his fourth in the past four games after going nine without scoring, on a power play with 5:44 left in the period. It was the third power-play goal surrendered by the Canucks' top-ranked penalty kill on six chances in the past two games, matching the total given up in the previous 12 games.

Miller kept Buffalo from adding a third power-play goal by stopping forward Drew Stafford in alone late in the second period and Higgins extended the lead playing 4-on-4 after another Buffalo power play in the third period ended with a Drew Stafford high-sticking penalty.

"The older guys took [the penalties] tonight," Nolan said. "Stafford takes the high-sticking penalty and kills us and we go 4-on-4."

Buffalo center Cody Hodgson, who was picked 10th by the Canucks in the 2008 NHL Draft before being traded to the Sabres for Kassian at the 2012 Trade Deadline, was a surprise healthy scratch. The Sabres dressed an extra defenseman instead of Hodgson, who has two goals, seven points and is minus-21 in 48 games this season.

"We need better," Nolan said. "Cody has been like that the vast majority of the year. He had a couple spurts here and there but not enough for a player of his caliber."

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