A week off seemed to do wonders for the Buffalo Sabres, who and-forth affair with a division rival.
Both the Sabres and Rangers play for the second time in as many nights, but it could be Buffalo that is a bit fresher. While the Sabres rolled to a 3-1 win over the Canadiens, the Rangers failed to hold three one-goal leads over the Devils before eventually falling 4-3 in a shootout.
New York did remain a point ahead of Boston for the most in the Eastern Conference with 67, also keeping them three ahead of Philadelphia for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Buffalo is tied for 12th in the conference with 47 points, nine back of a playoff spot.
While the Sabres may have spent less energy last night, they did continue to see injury impact the roster. They got both Paul Gaustad and Tyler Ennis back into the lineup, but saw leading goal-scorer Thomas Vanek exit early due to an upper-body injury. Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff said he thinks Vanek, who leads the Sabres with 19 goals and is second with 41 points, may miss a week of action but will have further evaluation.
With Vanek out for tonight, Jason Pominville will become the only Sabres skater to have dressed for every game this season as the club has lost 230 man games due to injury.
Ennis played for the first time in 18 games because of an ankle ailment and Gaustad returned after missing three games with an upper-body injury, scoring the go-ahead goal early in the third. Gaustad also assisted on tallies by Ville Leino and Patrick Kaleta to match a career high for points in a game.
Buffalo had dropped the first five of a seven-game road trip to give it a club-record 12 straight defeats in regulation as the guest, but picked up wins at New Jersey and Montreal to close the swing. That also gives the Sabres consecutive wins overall for the first time since a four-game run from Nov. 4-11.
"We carried the play in the third," Sabres goaltender Miller said. "We got our goal and they had to pressure a little bit. But we worked hard at it. There were some openings and we took our chances."
It was a historic night for Miller, who made 27 saves to tied Dominik Hasek's franchise record of 234 wins. Miller had lost three straight and five of six before backstopping Buffalo to its consecutive wins and moving to 13-15-2 on the season with a 2.99 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. It is unknown if he or backup Jhonas Enroth will get the start tonight.
"I knew I was close because I'd been sitting on it for way too long, considering where I was at to start the season," said Miller with a slight laugh. "It's nice. It's one of those things I can kind of smile about looking back on my career later on."
Though the Sabres will visit the Islanders on Saturday following tonight's game, they will play nine of their next 11 at home, where they have points in seven straight (4-0-3) and are 11-9-5 overall this season.
The Rangers come to town following last night's decision in which they allowed the game-tying goal with 48 seconds left in regulation. After failing to hold leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, New York watched New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk score in the first round of the shootout on backup netminder Martin Biron, while Derek Stepan, Brad Richards and All-Star Game MVP Marian Gaborik came up empty on their attempts.
"You have to try to compose yourself and gather yourself for overtime to try to get that extra point," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "Unfortunately, we didn't get that done."
Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle and Michael Del Zotto scored for the Rangers, who had won three of four before the break and fell to 14-4-1 in their last 19 games overall. Biron ended with 26 saves and All-Star Henrik Lundqvist is expected to get the start tonight.
Biron fell to 9-2-1 in 13 games this year.
Rookie Carl Hagelin scored twice in the Rangers' 4-1 victory at Buffalo on Dec. 10 in the first of four meetings between the clubs this year. The win snapped New York's two-game slide to the Sabres.