Former Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller
couldn't have picked a better time to return to the Buffalo Sabres
Losers of two straight and five of six, the Sabres rode the momentum of Miller's return from concussion – and his 32 saves – to a 3-2 win Saturday night over the Nashville Predators
"I'm happy to be back," Miller said. "I'm happy to get a win. It has been awhile since I have felt like I have put together a game I could pride myself in.
"It was important for me to go out there and play a solid game. I did the things I wanted to do. On the goals, I was a little behind on both of them."
Buffalo (14-11-1) took an early 2-0 lead on goals by Luke Adam
and Zach Kassian, before Tyler Ennis
recorded his first point of the year the eventual game-winner with 4:15 to play.
Despite goals from Craig Smith
and David Legwand
in a game in which they outshot the opponent 34-14, Nashville (12-10-4) continues to struggle at Bridgestone Arena, where they have won just four of 11 (4-4-3). Anders Lindback
, making his third start of the season, stopped 11 shots.
Miller's return to the ice was not an entirely joyous one. Nine games after being run by Boston's Milan Lucic, Miller was again bowled over Saturday, this time by Nashville's Jordin Tootoo
. As the second period wound down, Tootoo lost control while carrying the puck to goal from the left boards and launched himself into Miller, awkwardly tackling him and moving him out of the crease. Tootoo was given a charging major and a game misconduct. He also felt the wrath of Buffalo players eager – after not coming to their goalie's aid against Boston – to prove their loyalty to Miller.
"What happened in the game was a joke," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "All it does is prove the fact when I said it was open season. It appears it is open season.
"You have a guy coming off a concussion and you've got Jordin Tootoo
running over your goaltender. We used to get a two-minute power play. We got a one-minute power play. That's a joke. I want to see what the League wants to do with this one."
Tootoo denied the hit was malicious.
"I was driving to the net and I got a little shove from behind," Tootoo said. "The last thing I wanted to do was run the goalie over and put my team down. Clearly, I tried to jump out of the way. There was no intent to charge at him."
The Sabres only had 14 shots in the game, but two of their seven in the first period gave them the early advantage. At 10:00, Ville Leino
dropped a puck to Adam at the edge of the right circle, and the latter flicked it past Lindback's right shoulder.
Zach Kassian scored on a well-taken individual goal at 17:27 to double the advantage. Adam flipped a puck to the neutral zone, where Kassian beat Roman Josi
in a head-to-head puck battle then rounded him and flew toward Lindback. After a couple of subtle dekes, Kassian backhanded it past the goalie’s right side for his second of the season.
After a second period void of offense – Nashville had nine shots and Buffalo only three – Nashville halved the lead at 4:54 when Smith one-timed a cross-ice feed past Miller on his team's third and final power play.
"We could have probably used one more save," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "They got one more puck than us. There are not too many things I can say about our game other than the mistakes. I thought we probably made six mistakes and three of them ended up in our net."
Buffalo quickly restored the two-goal advantage on a rare goal from Ennis, who hadn't recorded a point since the 2010-11 playoffs. As he rushed to fill the left-hand lane, Derek Roy
found him with the puck. With Nashville overloading the left side, Ennis took advantage of the open lane before ripping it far post from the left circle.
Legwand added a late goal to tighten things up, but Buffalo was able to hold on through some timely Miller stops.
"We didn't make a lot of great decisions shooting the puck, but I thought we battled hard," Ruff said.