Three weeks ago, the Buffalo Sabres
were mired in a 1-7-5 slump and has dropped to 14th in the Eastern Conference. Now they’re the hottest team in the NHL.
The Sabres improved to 8-0-2 in their last 10 games with a 1-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs
on Wednesday night. Ryan Miller
stopped 35 shots and Paul Gaustad
scored the game’s only goal in the third period to put the Sabres in seventh place, one point ahead of Boston and the idle Rangers, whom they face on Saturday in New York.
“It feels good, but the job's not done,'' said Miller, who registered his third shutout of the season and seventh of his career. ''We're excited for the possibility to keep climbing. Our goal isn't eighth or seventh — sixth is the next spot.''
The way Miller is playing, it would be hard to bet against him or the Sabres. He’s 8-0-1 in his last nine starts and has allowed just 15 goals in that span.
The Sabres showed a lot of resilience, too — they were playing their sixth game in nine nights, including a 5-1 win at Ottawa on Tuesday.
“I don’t think we were bothered too much by the fatigue factor,” said forward Daniel Paille
, whose hard work set up Gaustad’s game-winner. “Obviously, it looked like we were a little bit tired, but we wanted a big win here, especially against Toronto.”
Paille set up the decisive goal by working the puck back and forth behind the Leafs' net before breaking free of defender Nikolai Antropov and feeding Gaustad, who was parked at the right post. Gaustad then banked a shot in off the side of Vesa Toskala
's head at 8:56 of the final period, catching the goalie leaning the wrong way.
Toronto, stuck in 14th place, had a two-game win streak snapped. The Leafs lost despite
being off since a 3-2 overtime win over Detroit on Saturday.
''We've had one bad game in 14,'' Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice said, referring to an 8-0 loss to Florida last Tuesday. ''We fought hard, and we played hard and competed. It was just a difficult way to end it. The fight was there.''
Toronto missed a chance to win three in a row for only the third time this season.
''We played a really good game. We were the better team for most of the game,'' Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin said. ''Miller was the difference.''
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff agreed. He also attributed much of the Sabres’ hot streak to the way his goalie has performed.
“There's been a feeling of confidence and it starts with Ryan and feeds through the team,'' Ruff said. ''You need your goaltender on most nights to be your best player. Ryan has been very good for us.''
Miller said he got a lot of help from his teammates.
“We did a good job of being smart,” he said. “I got to see a lot of pucks.”
He got some extra assistance from defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who swatted away Darcy Tucker’s drive with 1:47 remaining in regulation after the shot got through Miller.
“'You've got to love Hank,'' Miller said of Tallinder. ''I got lucky.”
Ruff also praised his players for the way they’ve rebounded from their post-Christmas slump.
“The players deserve all the credit,” he said. “It’s not easy to go through that — not easy to stick with it. They’ve been able to pull through, they’ve hung together. They believe in their goaltender, they believe in the system. Night in and night out, they’ve stayed with it, and they’ve been rewarded.”
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report