by Brian Wheeler
It took four rounds of shooters in a shootout for the Buffalo Sabres to snap a four-game losing streak in the Wachovia Center. Maxim Afinogenov scored on a forehand wristshot on Buffalo's fourth attempt while rookie goaltender Ryan Miller stopped Mike Knuble with a stick check on Philadelphia's ensuing try as the Sabres took the 2-1 shootout victory over the Flyers on Monday night.
Ales Kotalik was stopped by Flyers goaltender Antero Nittymaki, Thomas Vanek rang a shot off the left post and Tim Connolly scored on a backhand during the shootout prior to Afingenov's game-winner to give Buffalo their ninth straight road victory.
"No one is really thinking about the streak right now," said Paul Gaustad. "I couldn't even tell you how many on the road or in a row we've won. Guys aren't thinking about it."
Buffalo set the NHL record for most consecutive road wins when they won 10 straight from December 10, 1983 until January 23, 1984. It's only been tied twice since: St. Louis, 2000; New Jersey, 2001.
Peter Forsberg was the only Flyer that beat Miller during the shootout, as Jeff Carter, Jonathon Sim and Knuble were all stopped by the rookie.
Miller made 33 saves in his first start since October 28, including denying Sami Kapanen on a breakaway with the scored tied 1-1 and three minutes left in regulation, to extend Buffalo's winning streak to seven games.
Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff intended to start the rookie against Pittsburgh on Saturday, but decided to stick with the hottest goaltender in the league, Martin Biron. With Biron showing signs of fatigue against the Penguins, Ruff decided to error on the side of caution and play Miller against Philadelphia.
"With fatigue, you worry about injuries and if you are just pushing the envelope because you hope he can just keep on going," said Ruff. "We've got a fresh guy sitting there and I think the decision was an easy one.
"Miller was just solid. I thought both (Miller and Nittymaki) were good, but Ryan was a little bit better. He made the key save (on Knuble) when the pressure was on and a couple key saves late in the third period that allowed us to preserve at least a point and got us to the shootout."
"That's a performance that I want to keep building off," said Miller. "I want to save it and look forward to the next one."
Nicknamed the "Cardiac Kids" by Sabres play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret, Buffalo was once again saved by the team's third period play. Gaustad tied the game 1-1 at 7:12 in the third, one-timing Afinogenov's pass past Nittymaki for his sixth goal of the season.
The game marked the 20th instance this season a Sabres game was decided by a one-goal margin. In that span, the team holds a record of 14-5-1.
"We've shown a ton of grit and a ton of character (in one-goal games)," said Ruff. "We picked up speed as the game went on. We've done that on a number of occasions. When games are on the line, we've done the little things to win. I was proud of the way they played tonight."
In a flashback to the days of the Broad Street Bullies, the major action in the first period came via a pair of fights courtesy of Philadelphia left wing Josh Gratton. Less than two minutes into the game, Gratton and Sabres enforcer Andrew Peters squared off at center ice with a flurry of haymakers.
Approximately ten minutes later, Adam Mair checked Carter along the boards, causing Gratton to step in on the rookie's behalf. The two danced for 30 seconds before being separated.
"We wanted to set the tone early," said Gaustad. "They had a guy called up from the AHL and wanted to make an impression (Gratton). Peters and Mair stepped up and didn't let them push us around at all."
The opening period concluded with 27 minutes in penalties accessed to the two teams, 19 total shots - Buffalo was outshot 13-6 - and a score of 0-0.
Knuble gave the Flyers the only lead during regulation less than five minutes into the second with his seventh power-play goal of the season. Receiving a pass from Forsberg through the crease, Knuble fired a shot that was blocked by Miller, collected his rebound and put his second offering between the pads of the rookie.
Miller held the Philadelphia lead to one heading into the third after several saves late in the middle period, including a beautiful kick save on Kim Johnsson's shot from the point on the power play with his right skate with less than 30 seconds remaining in the period..
Buffalo will take their league-best 12 road victories to Florida on Thursday to face the Panthers. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 PM.
Only a single Sabre was named to the United States' Olympic team that will compete in Turin, Italy this February. Co-captain Chris Drury was the only member of Buffalo's squad to get the nod, while Miller and Connolly were left off the list.
Scoresheet | Super Stats | Faceoff Comp | Play By Play | Shift Chart
0-1 (4:25): Mike Knuble gives Philadelphia the first lead of the game after receiving a pass from Peter Forsberg and slamming the puck past Ryan Miller. Knuble's initial shot was blocked by Miller but his offering on his own rebound found the twine. The marker is Knuble's seventh on the power play and his 17th of the season. Forsberg and Michal Handzus record the assists.
1-1 (7:12): On a give-and-go with Maxim Afinogenov, Paul Gaustad one-times Afinogenov's pass from the slot for his sixth goal of the season. Afinogenov had sped wide around the outside of the defense on the left wing and passed before skating behind the net. Afinogenov and Jay McKee record the assists.
B - Ales Kotalik - blocked wide (no good)
P - Jeff Carter - Miller glove save (no good)
B - Thomas Vanek - Faked shot, hit left post (no good
P - Peter Forsberg - Backhand, five-hole (good)
B - Tim Connolly - Deke twice, backhand high (good)
P - Jonathon Sim - Fakes, forehand low, stopped (no good)
B - Max Afinogenov - Fakes, forehand (good)
P - Mike Knuble - forehand, Miller stick check (no good)
Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio station of the Buffalo Sabres.