CALGARY -- Though the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a long shot at best, the Calgary Flames have given fans plenty to cheer about on home ice lately.
Mike Cammalleri scored the game-winner midway through the third period, and Joni Ortio made 13 saves in a 3-1 victory against the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday.
The Flames (28-34-7) have won nine of their past 11 home games, a run that came immediately after a stretch in which Calgary lost seven straight home games, the longest slide in team history.
"That's a good thing. It's fun to play well at home," Cammalleri said. "We love our fan support and we want to play well for them and have them help us win games and have a place that's uncomfortable to come in and play. We have a lot of home games here the next while and we know that."
The Flames are 26th in the NHL standings with 63 points, 14 in back of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Buffalo (19-42-8) has lost seven straight. The Sabres, last in the NHL with 46 points and mathematically eliminated from the playoffs Sunday with a 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, have scored six goals during their slump -- all coming from either Drew Stafford (four) or Tyler Ennis (two).
"Extremely frustrating," Stafford said of his team's offensive problems. "We've been lacking offense. I've felt as though for the most part we've gotten stellar goaltending and tonight we cleaned up our defensive game for the most part, especially in the neutral zone. It was one of our better efforts. In previous games we've given up a lot off the rush and tonight we cleaned it up for the most part. We just need more offense."
Cammalleri broke a 1-1 tie at 9:16 of the third by redirecting Chris Butler's point shot behind Sabres goalie Nathan Lieuwen for his 20th of the season, the sixth time he's hit that plateau. It extended Cammalleri's point streak to five games, with five goals and seven points.
"I thought a few weeks ago he was shooting as well as he is now, but it just seemed the puck would find a pad or find a post or miss the net," coach Bob Hartley said. "Right now, [Cammalleri]'s on fire. It's not a surprise to us. He's very talented. He's Johnny-on-the-spot. He has that knack to find that open space around the net."
Paul Byron extended Calgary's lead to 3-1 at 13:27, busting in alone on Lieuwen before pulling the puck to his forehand and sliding it between the legs of the goalie for Calgary's League-leading 12th shorthanded goal.
The two goals came after all sorts of pressure on Lieuwen, a 22-year-old who was making his first NHL start. Buffalo goaltenders Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth each suffered an upper-body injury in the past week.
Sean Monahan spotted Curtis Glencross with a pass on the doorstep, but Lieuwen made the point-blank save to temporarily keep the game tied. Mark Giordano hit the far post off the rush three minutes later.
Lieuwen, whose NHL debut came in 22 minutes of relief action after Enroth was injured against the Canadiens, finished with 23 saves.
"It felt really good to get on the ice and be in that atmosphere," Lieuwen said. "That experience, it was incredible."
In a first period that had one shot in the opening minutes, the Sabres opened the scoring on their third of the game, courtesy of a gaffe by Flames forward Ben Hanowski, who coughed up the puck up behind his net. That led to Stafford's wraparound past Ortio to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead at 13:22.
"I was just reading the reverse and got a fortunate bounce there with him reversing it and I surprised the goalie getting it there that quick and found the hole," Stafford said. "We'll take it but we need more."
The Sabres thought they had extended the lead to two 1:28 later when Brian Flynn scored into a virtually empty net, but the goal was waved off when referees ruled Marcus Foligno impeded Ortio's movement in the crease.
Buffalo led 1-0 lead after one period, the 12th time in 69 games the Sabres held the lead at the first intermission.
Seven straight shots from the Flames in the opening half the second, including Byron's dart out of the corner at 8:47 that Lieuwen fought off, prompted Sabres coach Ted Nolan to take a timeout.
The move worked temporarily, but the Flames managed to draw even with 1:02 remaining. Joe Colborne swatted a rebound past Lieuwen, who sprawled on his stomach to make the initial save when Monahan pulled TJ Brodie's wide point shot off the end boards.
"Tough bounces, right?" Lieuwen said. "That's part of hockey is the bounces. Sometimes players make good plays and you tip your cap but at the same time you always want to get better to see what you can do to get better."