Rookie Jhonas Enroth proved the Buffalo Sabres can win even without star goaltender Ryan Miller. Enroth stepped in for last season's Vezina Trophy winner and made 23 saves as the Sabres beat New York 1-0 on Wednesday, moving Buffalo past the Rangers into seventh place in the East.
Tim Connolly's second-period power-play goal was the only one of Buffalo's 35 shots to beat Henrik Lundqvist, but it was enough to give the Sabres 87 points, the same as the Rangers. Buffalo has the edge because it has one more non-shootout win. Both teams are three points ahead of ninth-place Carolina, a 6-2 winner at home against Montreal, with five games remaining for all three teams.
The Sabres were forced to start Enroth when Miller, the NHL’s First Star last week, was a late scratch due to an upper-body injury -- possibly sustained when he took a shot near the collarbone during Tuesday's 4-3 loss at Toronto. Enroth, who lost an overtime decision to the Rangers in New York on Nov. 11, stepped in with his first NHL shutout.
The Sabres scored the game’s only goal at 5:28 of the second period. With Rangers defenseman Marc Staal in the box for interference, New York had a 3-on-1 shorthanded break only to have a pass blocked by rookie defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani -- triggering a 3-on-2 rush the other way. Connolly took a pass from Thomas Vanek, opted to shoot from inside the left circle and beat Lundqvist high on the blocker side to send the sellout crowd of 18,690 into a frenzy.
Lundqvist, who had allowed just one goal in New York's last three games, was sharp throughout, routinely steering shots to safety, covering loose pucks in his crease and dictating the tempo in his own end. He received help from his teammates, including a diving block by Brian Boyle late in the first period to deny Vanek on a slap shot from close range.
Enroth did some of his best work in the final minute, after Lundqvist left for an extra attacker. He also benefitted from a first-period crease-interference call against call that negated an apparent goal by Artem Anisimov.
The Rangers have seen three of their last four games end 1-0 -- they sandwiched wins against Florida and Boston around a 2-1 shootout loss to Ottawa last week. The Rangers travel to Long Island to visit the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum Thursday night. The Sabres are off until they play at Washington on Saturday night.