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Sabres' Miller shines again, defeats Capitals

by Adam Vingan

WASHINGTON -- The road, and the 2013-14 season in general, has been unkind to the Buffalo Sabres.

Entering their game against the Washington Capitals on Sunday at Verizon Center, the NHL-worst Sabres had lost 11 straight games on the road (0-9-2), having not won away from First Niagara Center since Nov. 5.

Behind a stellar performance from its franchise goaltender and the return of its leading scorer from injury, Buffalo avoided matching the longest road-losing streak in franchise history.

Ryan Miller made 28 saves and Cody Hodgson, who returned from an eight-game absence after recovering from a hand injury, scored the decisive shootout goal to lead the Sabres to a 2-1 victory.

It was the second time the Sabres defeated the Capitals 2-1 in a shootout in two weeks.

"I thought it was a real nice game," said Miller, who has stopped 77 of the 79 shots he has faced from the Capitals so far this season, including a career-high 49-save performance on Dec. 29. "I thought the guys got the puck deep, they worked hard. We generated some power-play opportunities because we were moving our feet and working. We can't go line rush for line rush with these guys. … I thought we did a nice job."

Tyler Ennis scored for the Sabres. Jason Chimera scored for the Capitals, who had their two-game winning streak stopped, but still at least temporarily reclaimed sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division from the Philadelphia Flyers, who face the New York Rangers on Sunday night.

Philipp Grubauer, starting for the 11th time in Washington's past 16 games, stopped 30 shots.

Washington took a 1-0 lead at 11:01 of the first period on a fortuitous bounce. As Chimera cut towards the net, his centering pass intended for a charging Marcus Johansson ricocheted off Sabres forward Brian Flynn's outstretched stick and past Miller for his eighth goal of the season.

Buffalo tied the game on a late first-period power play, earned when Tom Wilson charged Jamie McBain along the boards. Hodgson carried the puck into the zone and left it for Matt Moulson near the left point, who then sent a cross-ice pass in the direction of Christian Ehrhoff.

With traffic in front, Ehrhoff threw the puck towards Grubauer, and Ennis, who bumped into Capitals forward Joel Ward as Hodgson started the rush, was able to corral it before beating the Capitals goaltender at 18:09.

Ennis' ninth goal was Buffalo's 12th first-period goal of the season, the lowest total in the League by a significant margin, and the Sabres' first since Dec. 27.

"I actually collided with a guy down at our end, and he was kind of slow to get up," Ennis said. "It was accidental, but I jumped back in the play and we had a little rush. The puck was just sitting there for me."

The teams played a scoreless second period and Grubauer and Miller combined to make 17 saves. Buffalo's 28th-ranked power play failed to score on two opportunities and 1:07 of a third, the rest of which was killed by Washington to start the third period.

While there was a dearth of quality scoring chances in regulation, Miller had to make two impressive saves as the third period came to a close. First, he snagged a Chimera shot from the high slot with his glove, then stretched out to make a diving save with the blade of his stick on Mikhail Grabovski, who had a wide-open net in front with over two minutes left.

"That's one of those ones where you're just completely out of options," Miller said of his save on Grabovski. "The puck came through traffic, hit me right in the pads instead of the stick and I knew I was in trouble. I saw him kind of reload and get in position. … More often that not, those guys are going to score. I don't think he got quite all of it and he gave me time to put a blade on it."

The Capitals, however, thought that they bested Miller and won the game with 53 seconds remaining on a goal from Karl Alzner, but before he got the shot off, Nicklas Backstrom tripped Hodgson, negating the goal and putting the Sabres on the power play.

"Got a good puck right in the middle, and I was about to shoot it right away so I had time," Alzner said. "Took a step in, almost lost it, took another step in, regained it and kind of heard the whistle go a little bit, but I was already in my motion."

Washington killed off the remainder of Backstrom's penalty in overtime, but in the shootout, Hodgson scored the only goal in the bottom of the third round to clinch the victory.

"We want to play on the right side of the puck and we want to create ourselves an identity," Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. "What type of team do we want to be? Not a team that plays one way for 20 minutes and then slips off for five. It was one of those games where we [would like] to bottle this and play like this all the time."

Washington plays at Verizon Center on Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks before starting a stretch of eight of nine on the road. The Sabres will return home to face the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.

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