Miller, Sabres shut out Toronto
Buffalo takes over NHL Northeast Division lead
Ryan Miller turned away all 38 shots that were thrown at him as his Buffalo Sabres beat the Maple Leafs 3-0 on Monday night in Toronto.
Miller posted his third shutout of the season and 15th of his career while Tim Kennedy, Henrik Tallinder and Jochen Hecht scored for Buffalo (15-7-2), as the team moved into top spot in the Northeast Division with their third win in a row.
The win for the American goaltender — his second against the Leafs this year — was played out in front of the men who will make the choice of who will start in goal for the U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey team in Vancouver, Brian Burke and Ron Wilson.
"Their goalie over there has stolen two games against us," said Leafs forward Matt Stajan. "I don't know what it is. Maybe his Team U.S. coach and GM are on our side, he wants to prove something? I don't know what it is, but he's one of the best and you've got to give him credit."
Toronto's Jonas Gustavsson made 28 stops in a losing effort while his team (6-12-7) had their win streak snapped at two.
The game started out with a high-tempo first period that featured plenty of chances and a goaltending duel between Miller and Gustavsson that kept the game scoreless through the first 20 minutes.
Toronto had control early on, outshooting Buffalo by a count of 7-1 through the first half of the period, but that count was a more equitable 11-9 in favour of the Leafs when all was said and done in the opening frame.
Miller came up huge on several scrums in front of the net and also proved you have to be good to be lucky when he caught a break midway through the first.
The Leafs' Alexei Ponikarovsky, attempting to pot a third rebound chance at the side of the goal, lost a skate blade while he tried to corral the puck.
After that flawed chance, it was the Sabres' turn to smother Toronto in their end of the ice — forcing Gustavsson to match Miller's performance.
And the Swedish goalie did just that, at least for the first period.
Goalies match save for save in 1st
After making the initial save on a Thomas Vanek shot off a 3-on-2 chance, Gustavsson managed to kick out his left pad on a rebound chance for Mike Grier in close.
The puck made its way back into the Buffalo end for the final minute, with Miller warding off multiple chances as Dmitri Kulemin and Jason Blake buzzed around the Sabres goal.
Miller said that despite who may have been in the audience, this was just another game.
"If Burke's here, that's great," said Miller, who missed the 2006 Olympics with a hand injury. "I got a chance to meet him a few times.
"Glad I can perform well in this rink, but I'm not getting geared up more [for games against Toronto]. He's not skating against me. I try not to focus on it. I really have done a good job of not bringing it to the forefront in my thought process.
"I'm just trying to stay in my little groove and not sway from it."
Kessel and Tim Connolly traded minors in the first two minutes of the second, but the Maple Leafs had the best prospects on their 1:18 of power-play time as Stajan and Kessel teamed up on a pair of chances.
On a give-and-go rush, the Leafs forwards had Miller beat but couldn't put the loose puck in the crease home. Seconds later, the Toronto pair came up empty on an attempted one-timer across the crease when Kessel took the Stajan pass in his skates.
With a second man-advantage opportunity 10 minutes later, it seemed Toronto was willing the puck past Miller, putting two or three blue sweaters in the slot, just trying to power the puck in the net.
The Sabres 'tender was up to the task, stopping a Grabovski shot and denying Kessel on back-to-back rebound chances, posting a save for each of the 16 shots thrown his way in the second period.
"I hope [Miller] plays like this in February," Wilson said. "That's about the extent of it. He made all the difference in the first two periods. We should have had the lead at some point, but you've got to give him credit, he made the saves."
Gustavsson was the first to blink.
Kennedy in right place at right time
With less than seven minutes to go in the period, Sabres defenceman Andrej Sekera spotted Vanek on the left wing, but his pass through the slot took a fortuitous bounce off a skate in front and onto the waiting stick of Tim Kennedy, who was positioned on the right side of the crease.
The left-winger broke the scoreless tie as he banked a shot off of Gustavsson's skate while the goalie slid across the crease.
Soon after the goal, Toronto defenceman Carl Gunnarson took an awkward hit into the boards from Clarke MacArthur and left.
Pominville had a chance to open up a two-goal lead with under six minutes to go, but standing in the spot Kennedy where scored, Pominville whiffed. The Sabres right-winger missed the wide-open cage, sliding the puck harmlessly through the crease.
The Maple Leafs were down 2-0 before they could blink, as Henrik Tallinder fired a shot from the point through the crowd that beat Gustavsson just 20 seconds into the third.
The final nail in the coffin for Toronto came with nine minutes to play, when Steve Montador caused a turnover just outside the Buffalo zone and quickly got it to Pominville inside the Leafs' end.
Pominville dropped the puck off for Hecht in the high slot, and he fired a quick wrister that beat Gustavsson over the shoulder for the 3-0 lead.