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Late goal lifts Sabres past Miller, Canucks

by Joe Yerdon /

BUFFALO -- The Buffalo Sabres and Rasmus Ristolainen spoiled the long-awaited return of former Sabres goalie Ryan Miller by scoring late in the third period.

Ristolainen's second goal of the game came with 16.8 seconds left and gave the Sabres a 3-2 win against Miller and the Vancouver Canucks at First Niagara Center on Saturday.

"It's been kind of the script for a lot of our third periods, so at some point we have to take issue with it," Miller said of the late goal. "We've talked about it. Maybe that one will be our wakeup call."

It was Miller's first game here since he was traded by the Sabres to the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 28, 2014. He made 19 saves.

"This happens a lot in this league when you have to go back," Miller said. "But just for me, it was a big part of my life, and it was nice to come back here. Would have been nice to have a better ending, but that's how it goes."

Miller joined the Canucks as a free agent in July 2014. The Sabres played a tribute video during a stoppage in the first period and the sellout crowd gave him a standing ovation. Miller skated out from his crease, raised his stick in the air, and applauded the fans for their recognition.

"It's nice to know you can come back here and people appreciate the way you came to the rink," Miller said. "I tried to compete hard when I was here."

Ristolainen took a wrist shot from inside the blue line after a pass from Marcus Foligno that beat Miller for his third goal of the season.

"He's got an unbelievable shot," Foligno said. "Sometimes in practice it doesn't stay low sometimes, but it's a cannon. He's got a heavy, heavy shot and one of the most underrated shots in the NHL. He's so young (21 last month) so it's going to get better and better. When he can snap it like that, it's just a for-sure goal."

Ristolainen's game-winner was set up when Tyler Ennis skated past Canucks defenseman Ben Hutton into the zone. Ristolainen skated past forward Daniel Sedin and eluded defenseman Matt Bartkowski before he passed to Foligno. Foligno then passed back for the winning shot.

"[Ennis' skating abilitiy] is not something you or I have," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I don't know what the best part of the play was, Tyler carrying the puck and dancing through the four guys and entering the zone and making the play to Marcus, or the end result, the goal. I thought it was a big goal for [Ennis]. He didn't score. I know he's been pressing to score. He really makes the play with his dancing ability up the ice."

It was the Sabres' latest regulation game-winning goal since Mike Grier scored at 19:55 of the third period on March 11, 2006 in a 6-5 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

"[Ristolainen] plays above his age," Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges said. "In tight situations late in games, he's playing against one of the best lines of the last 10, 15 years and he keeps his composure and still makes play and tight in his [defensive] zone, but then you see what he does when he gets the puck on the blue line in the offensive zone."

Linus Ullmark made 35 saves for the Sabres (6-8-0), who have won three of four. The Canucks (6-4-4) have lost two straight.

Ullmark on Thursday gave up three goals on 11 shots in the first period of a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Chad Johnson replaced him after that period.

"This game is always a mental battle, and it's hard when you've been in the League 10, 11, 12, 13 years," Gorges said. "When you're in your first year and you're trying to make your mark, earn your spot on the team, it's tough to stay in the right frame of mind. … He looked calm in the net again."

Ullmark made his fourth consecutive start and was under pressure throughout; the Canucks led the Sabres in shot attempts 65-33.

"When you're into things, you want to get to start every day," Ullmark said. "I'm just happy when I'm here, and they say I'm not going to start, of course I'm not going to sit around and be sorry for myself if I don't get to start. But I just feel that when you're getting the starts and you're getting the flow every time and you're keeping your confidence probably high."

Ristolainen gave the Sabres a 2-0 lead 8:10 into the second period. After Canucks forward Jake Virtanen was penalized for elbowing, Ristolainen received a pass from Jack Eichel and took a slap shot that went through Miller's five-hole.

Canucks forward Chris Higgins tied the game with 9:45 left in the third period with his first goal of the season in his second game. Higgins skated around Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons and defenseman Jake McCabe and slipped the puck through Ullmark.

"We played hard," Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said. "I thought we had a good first period, a good second too. It was good to battle. It was good for Higgins to come back. I thought he played better tonight, it was good to see him rewarded with a goal."

Eichel had his first two assists of the season, including on Jamie McGinn's third goal of the season 2:18 into the second period.

Vancouver forward Henrik Sedin made it 2-1 with 6:27 left in the second period. His third goal of the season came after he received a pass from Daniel Sedin and took a wrist shot at the side of the net over Ullmark.

"I thought we moved the puck pretty well," Desjardins said. "But I think there are areas to improve as well. You have to find ways to win. You have to find ways to get to the net."

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