By Bill Hoppe
BUFFALO — It would’ve only been fitting. If you’re going to surpass the greatest goalie in Sabres history on the all-time wins list, earn it in style with a scintillating, Dominik Hasek-like effort, right?
Ryan Miller nearly did that, dazzling throughout regulation and overtime Wednesday, stopping all 29 of the New York Rangers’ shots inside a roaring First Niagara Center.
A single goal from his Sabres teammates could’ve gotten Miller the franchise record.
Instead, the Sabres’ anemic offense narrowly missed several prime chances, including Derek Roy’s shot off the post with a yawning cage before him at the end of overtime.
In the shootout, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stopped five of six shooters, securing a 1-0 win in front of the capacity crowd of 18,690 fans.
Rochester native Ryan Callahan won it in the bottom of the fifth, his quick wrist shot beating Miller. Marian Gaborik and Jason Pominville had scored earlier.
In a splendid goalie battle, Lundqvist was slightly better than Miller, making 34 saves.
Miller’s still credited with his second shutout. He’ll try for his 235th victory again Saturday in New York against the Islanders.
“He played well for us – awesome, great game, made some huge saves,” Roy said. “ … He’s on his game right now. We got to score some goals and help him out.”
Roy knows he botched a glorious opportunity to extend the Sabres’ winning streak to three games.
“I tried to backhand it over him and hit the post,” the struggling Roy said with a sigh, “so it hit the post and went out. Hopefully, next time it hits the post and goes in. I just got to finish that chance if we want to win games.”
Coach Lindy Ruff liked everything about the Sabres’ game expect the Roy miss.
“The only disappointing part is Derek Roy’s got to put that one away,” he said. “Coming close isn’t good enough.”
Following a shocking few months in which Miller morphed into one of the NHL’s worst netminders, he’s regained his regular form recently, allowing only three goals his last three starts. His goals-against average has finally dipped below 3.00.
“I haven’t had too many good outings in the last few months,” Miller said. “The last week and a half here I’ve found my game and saw it kind of round into shape.”
Sabres winger Tyler Ennis added: “Two great goalies tonight. We wanted to win this one for Millsie. He played phenomenal tonight.”
The offense had its moments.
Ennis rang a shot off the post with a chance to go up in the shootout. Earlier, Lundqvist’s glove stymied Brad Boyes at the goal line. On a power play late in regulation, Lundqvist also stoned Boyes in front.
“It’s hard to explain, I guess,” Miller said about the missed chances. “It’s almost like an epidemic – keep getting chances, keep bearing down. We have to put some pucks away. I thought we got a really strong effort from our guys tonight. One point is OK, but you can’t afford to do that.”
The Sabres had other chances, including a 42-second two-man advantage during the first period. Ruff called timeout. The opportunity frittered away, though.
They enjoyed two power plays in the final 5:11 of regulation, too. The Sabres also had to kill off Ennis’ suspect boarding call on Dan Girardi in overtime.
“I don’t agree with it,” Ennis said. “I hit him with my shoulder. I tried to turn in the direction where it would be body-on-body. At worst he went in shoulder-first. I mean, I’m a 160 pounds soaking wet and he kind of sold it pretty good.”
They generated some nice momentum from that and another kill in the third period, however.
“We played hard and I thought a couple of times had them on the ropes,” Ruff said. “I thought our fans in the third period got us going, this building got some life. I thought we played a hell of a third period.”
Ruff said sniper Thomas Vanek (upper body) underwent tests and will miss a week or so after leaving Tuesday’s 3-1 win in Montreal.
“It could’ve been more serious than it was,” he said. “So it’s going to be really a pain type of thing. Let’s say a week. Maybe it ends up being a little bit longer.”