BUFFALO – It could’ve been about 8-1 after 40 minutes against the Boston Bruins on Friday. Instead, goalie Ryan Miller held his teammates in the contest, stopping 16 of 17 shots as the Sabres kept imploding in their own zone during the second period.
Miller, who’s been hung out to dry all season, gave the reeling Sabres the extra life they sorely needed as the capacity crowd of 19,070 fans booed them off the ice.
They finally rewarded him, roaring back and scoring three third-period goals to down the Bruins 4-2 inside the First Niagara Center.
“It’s frustrating, but if you take a look at that third period, it was really one of the best periods I’ve seen from us in a long time, even dating back to last year,” said maligned Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, who tied the game after pinching in 2:03 into the third period. “So it was really good to see. It was a huge step.”
The Sabres, who jumped from 15th to 11th place in the Eastern Conference, have dealt the Bruins (8-2-2) both their regulation losses this season.
“We recognize it’s a rivalry and recognize that it’s a measuring stick,” Miller said. “When we step on the ice, we want to prove we belong (with them). That’s what it comes down to for me. For me, it’s a measuring stick. I want to go stop those big boys. I know if I’m doing that, I’m doing something right. We can compete against anybody.”
Miller’s dynamic play has been allowing the Sabres to compete this season.
“Obviously, he’s a world-class goalie and he’s the backbone of this team,” said Sabres winger Drew Stafford, whose first goal this season opened the scoring. “When he’s playing like he has been, keeping us in games, it’s up to us to put the puck in the net and win some games for him.”
Christian Ehrhoff scored the winner 9:02 into the third period, beating Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin from the slot after Stafford zoomed into the zone and fed him.
Myers, a healthy scratch twice in the past week, helped ice it, rushing the puck in before backhanding a pass to Cody Hodgson beside the net at 11:45.
But Myers wasn’t the only player who recaptured his old form Friday.
Stafford netted his first goal since March 31 just 3:24 into the game, converting Tyler Ennis’ pass from below the goal line in the slot. The struggling winger celebrated by yelling loudly.
Afterward, a relieved and sweaty Stafford was sporting a fur coat with a large Sabres logo stitched on back, a reward for getting off the schneid.
“That’s something I’ve been working for, and finally it’s nice to get rewarded,” Stafford said. “It feels good. Hopefully, it’ll open the floodgates.”
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said someone had asked him earlier Friday why Stafford hadn’t been scratched yet.
“I said, ‘If I sit him out, he’s got no chance of scoring,’” Ruff said. “I said he’s got himself in pretty good position the last couple games. He got himself in real good position there. He found that hole right in front of the net. … Hopefully, that’s the one that gets him going.”
Myers, meanwhile, played his best game this season, hauling the puck and moving aggressively. He also used his 6-foot-8 frame to level Daniel Paille following a second-period turnover.
“When he’s skating and moving, he’s a tough man to keep track of,” Ruff said. “I thought his energy in the game was maybe as good as I’ve seen this year. That’s a big plus for us.”
Myers, who scored his first goal since opening day, said there were “a lot of good things to take” from his performance.
“I think the most important thing is that I continue and not let this be a one-game thing,” he said.
Myers added: “All of it’s confidence. It’s coming back, still a lot to go.”
The Sabres couldn’t escape the game unscathed, though.
Andrej Sekera had to be helped off the ice midway through the third period after Shawn Thornton checked him into the boards. The defenseman has a “read bad charley horse” and will miss some time, Ruff said.
Dougie Hamilton scored his first NHL goal on the power play early. Rich Peverley scored later for the Bruins.