BUFFALO – The Sabres, rested and waiting for the New York Islanders, would’ve had no excuses for losing Tuesday. Not against a team that had been humiliated 6-0 at home the previous afternoon. Not with Kevin Poulin, the rookie goaltender that had lasted just two minutes into his start, getting another nod.
The Isles looked ripe to be exploited inside the First Niagara Center.
Sure enough, the Sabres capitalized early. Tyler Myers scored just 1:21 into the game, pinching in and capping an early onslaught. The Sabres pumped nine shots on Poulin by the eight-minute mark.
They played kept the pressure on throughout, eking out a 2-1 win before a capacity crowd of 18,690 fans.
“That’s the exact start we wanted,” Myers said.
Thirty saves from goalie Ryan Miller, including two huge point-blank stops on Matt Moulson with 4:04 left in the game, secured the Sabres’ second straight win and vaulted them past the Isles and Montreal Canadiens from 14th to 12th place in the Eastern Conference.
The Sabres, given up for dead by many recently, trail the eighth-place Toronto Maple Leafs by six points (59-65). Both the Leafs and Winnipeg Jets, who also have 65 points, earned consolations points Tuesday by losing in overtime.
Still, the Sabres, 7-3-2 in their last 12 games, are making things interesting.
“The hope tank just gets a little bit more every game you win,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “ … That’s one point closer to where we need to be. We got our part done. We’re going to play those teams that are ahead of us.”
At this point, will the Sabres really sell off assets before Monday’s trade deadline? Clearly, belief and confidence is growing in the dressing room.
“We’re still in it,” Myers said. “It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tight, for sure. We keep playing like that, bring that game on the road we give ourselves a shot.”
Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold added: “Every day is a learning curve for us. We can’t be giving away points like we did in the past. Today was a good example of that. We got off to a good lead and kept it. The future is ours.”
Myers’ second tally in three games got the Sabres going. Poulin thwarted Ville Leino and Jason Pominville in close, but couldn’t stop the defenseman as he zoomed in.
Poulin, who had a 75.79 goals-against average Monday in the Isles’ loss to Ottawa, settled down, finishing with 35 saves in his 16th NHL game.
At 3:41 of the second period, Thomas Vanek converted Derek Roy’s pass from behind the net in front.
With two more assists, Roy has seven points in four games, as many as he had in the 23 contests before his streak. The Sabres are 17-4-4 when the center has a point.
Miller, meanwhile, dazzled despite facing only six shots during the second.
First, he stoned Brian Rolston’s breakaway at 6:35, then Josh Bailey’s rebound attempt.
“Hey, when he’s feeling it,” Leopold said, “he’s going to make those two, big saves a night. Those can be difference-makers, and they were tonight.”
Ruff added: “To get the big saves inside of that allowed us to go up ice and create the chances we did in the second period.”
Frans Nielsen broke the shutout bid 14:52 into the final period, beating Miller from the left circle.
But Miller’s two Moulson stops highlighted a tense final five minutes before the capacity crowd of 18,690 fans.
“That was huge,” Myers said. “That saved the game, for sure. The way he’s been playing it makes you feel real comfortable as a defenseman in front of him.”
Miller experienced a few brutal months this season, becoming one of the league’s worst netminders. But he’s been his old self for about a month now. He’s allowed two or fewer goals in seven of his last 10 starts.
“It’s been coming around for a little while here,” Miller said. “I do feel a little bit better about my game. There’s a big buildup here toward the end of the season. I want to be as sharp as I can.”
Sabres defenseman Robyn Regehr left the game after taking a high stick. He played only 6:50. Ruff said he’s day-to-day.