"We've been hitting an awful lot of tight games," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. "Tight games can make you better if you learn from them, and I think our confidence level is where the team just believes they can make the difference late."
"We just need to play four lines, good defense and goaltending, and grind out wins," said winger Thomas Vanek
, who recorded his fifth goal of the season on a penalty shot in the third period.
And grind out wins they have. The contest marked the 15th instance this season a Sabres' game was decided by a one-goal margin. Buffalo holds a 9-6-0 in that span.
"We didn't skate well as a team and still found a way to win," said Ruff.
Ales Kotalik one-timed Brian Campbell's across ice pass to even the game 2-2 with less than four minutes remaining in regulation. The goal was Kotalik's team-leading 14th of the season and the 10th time he has scored on the power play.
"Kotalik has proven that if he can find a hole, he can score from anywhere," said Ruff.
Martin Biron recorded 28 saves en route to his 11th win of the season and his ninth victory in as many starts.
Leading an odd-man rush, Chris Kunitz fired an across-ice pass intended for Buffalo native, Todd Marchant, but the offering deflected off Henrik Tallinder's stick past Biron to give Anaheim the 1-0 lead at 7:06 of the first.
Kunitz was credited with his third goal of the season despite putting the puck nowhere near the net.
"(Tallinder) did the correct play and tried to take away the pass," said Biron. "It goes off his stick and in the net. Those goals, you can put away right then because you know that you're movements are correct. It was just a bad bounce."
Buffalo rallied in the second, outshooting the Mighty Ducks 15-6 but couldn't find an answer for Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The Montreal, Quebec native made 28 saves in his first start since injuring his groin on November 20.
"I don't think we played our greatest game and they played pretty well," said Vanek. "We were only down one goal going into the third period, so I don't think we were too frustrated."
"In the first and second, we both played very patiently," said Biron. "It was kind of a cat-and-mouse game. It shows because the only goal that was scored was the one that went off a stick."
Vanek evened the score 1-1 with his successful penalty shot attempt, first faking a shot, deking twice and flipping a backhander over Giguere's leg on his stick side.
The goal marked the first successful penalty shot by a Sabre since Miroslav Satan beat New York Rangers' goaltender Mike Dunham on February 15, 2003.
"Most of the times, I just make it up as I go," said Vanek when asked about his moves on the one-on-one. "But tonight, I knew I had to get Giguere moving because he's such a big goalie with his shoulders."
Cutting wide around Teppo Numminen on the left wing, Joffrey Lupul collected his own rebound and fired a wrist shot that deflects off Martin Biron's pads into the net. The goal is Lupul's 12th of the season, his second point of the game and gave Anaheim the 2-1 lead.
Goaltender Ryan Miller
was cleared to play by team doctors on Thursday and has been assigned to the Rochester Americans for a conditioning stint. Miller will start Friday night for the Amerks when they face the Houston Aeros, and will evaluated following that contest.
According to Ruff, winger JP Dumonts surgery to repair an abdominal injury went well. Dumont is expected to return sometime around late February.
---------------------------------------------------- SCORING REPORTS
| Super Stats
| Faceoff Comp
| Play By Play
| Shift Chart GAME BLOG:
0-1 (7:06): On an odd-man rush, Chris Kunitz's pass to Todd Marchant is redirected past Martin Biron by Henrik Tallinder. Tallinder was on one knee to prevent the crossing feed. The tally is Kunitz's third of the season. Joe DiPenta and Joffrey Lupul record the assists.
1-1 (8:06): Thomas Vanek
ties the game after being J-S Giguere on a penalty shot. Vanek faked a shot, deked twice and flipped a backhander over Giguere's leg on his stick side. It was the first successful penalty shot by a Sabre since Miroslav Satan beat NY Rangers goaltender Mike Dunham on February 15, 2003.
1-2 (10:24): Cutting wide around Teppo Numminen on the left wing, Joffrey Lupul collects his own rebound and fires a wrist shot that deflects off Martin Biron's pads into the net. The goal is Lupul's 12th of the season and second point of the game. Scott Niedermayer gets the only helper.
2-2 (14:33): Ales Kotalik one-times Brian Campbell's across ice pass past J-S Giguere to even the game. The goal is Kotalik's team leading 14th of the season. Campbell and Jason Pominville
record the assists.
3-2 (2:11): Maxim Afinogenov fires a slapshot from the right face-off circle that beats Giguere for the win. Jason Pominville
and Teppo Numminen record the assists.