By Bill Hoppe
Credit was due all around following the Sabres’ much-needed 2-1 home triumph over the Calgary Flames on Friday, just their second win at the First Niagara Center in six tries.
• The Sabres, who imploded in the opening minutes of their last outing, roared out the gate, pumping 18 of their 44 shots on Flames goalie Henrik Karlsson during a wild first period.
• Drew Stafford opened the scoring 7:59 into the contest, his first tally in seven games. The winger kept dazzling throughout, performing like the 31-goal scorer from last season.
• In a scheduled start for Ryan Miller, backup goalie Jhonas Enroth impressed again, outdueling the seldom-used Karlsson, his friend from back home in Sweden.
• The penalty killing, quietly the NHL’s No. 1 unit, stymied the Flames’ 1:09 two-man advantage early in the second period, a huge momentum swing before the capacity crowd of 18,690 fans.
Forget about all that for a moment, though. What was the best part of Friday?
“It’s great we finally got a win here,” said Enroth, who stopped 29 shots, improving to 3-0 this season. “Now everybody can stop talking about that we can’t win here. It’s really nice. We’re back on track now.”
The Sabres had been awful at home, losing two straight and three of four to start the five-game homestand. They possibly hit rock-bottom on Wednesday, falling behind 3-0 by the 6:23 mark and dropping a 3-2 decision to Philadelphia. Another loss and they would’ve fallen to 6-6 overall.
Two days later, the Sabres put together arguably their most complete effort this season.
“That might be our best game this season,” Sabres winger Ville Leino said. “We were really moving the puck well.”
It all began with a terrific start.
“Last game was tough. It’s not what we wanted,” said Sabres winger Nathan Gerbe, who one-timed the winner in the right circle 1:45 into the third period. “This start was better, and it’s the kind of start we’re looking for as a team, just to play up-tempo and get pucks in.”
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff added: “I thought our puck movement and execution was probably the best game of the year when it comes to that. The power play alone in the first period could’ve had five or six (goals).”
The Sabres spent most of the opening period in the Calgary zone. They almost scored several times, but Karlsson, in his 14th NHL start, had a career-best outing. During a later power play, the 27-year-old made three huge saves, including an incredible glove stop on Brad Boyes.
“He looked good,” Leino said. “He was like a bigger version of (starter Miikka) Kiprusoff.”
Still, Enroth outplayed his friend, who’s 6-foot-6, at least seven inches taller than Enroth.
“Jhonas was even better, and he’s been playing really awesome,” Leino said.
Moments after the crossbar saved him, Enroth helped kill the Flames’ two-man advantage, gloving Anton Babchuk’s point blast.
Earlier, Karlsson couldn’t stop a similar shot, Stafford’s wicked one-timer from the top of the left circle.
Afterward, wearing a special gold helmet for being the Sabres’ leading scorer, Stafford explained how he busted his slump.
“Trying to get open, same thing I’ve been trying to do last few games finally getting a break and a good shot, and that one goes in,” Stafford said. “It’s one of those things where I was going through a tough time production-wise, so you got to make sure you keep trying to shoot, keep trying to get to the net, eventually one will go in.”
Stafford had a few other prime scoring opportunities, including a two-on-zero chance he shot over the net late.
“For all the good breaks you get, you still get some bad ones,” Stafford said.
Gerbe made it 2-0, connecting after Marc-Andre Gragnani tried to get the puck on net from inside the blue line.
“It just banked off their guy, I think,” Gerbe said. “I was very lucky just to one-time it in.”
Alex Tanguay scored the Flames’ lone goal 5:45 into the third period.
Jason Pominville appeared to ice the game midway through the third period, burying a rebound in front. But the officials whistled the play dead even though the puck was still loose.
“When you’re going well you get the breaks, and when you’re not going well those breaks just don’t go your way,” Ruff said.
The Sabres play tonight in Ottawa against the Senators.