SAN JOSE – Another night, another shutout for Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller.
Just 24 hours after making 43 saves in a 2-0 victory at Anaheim, Miller stopped another 39 shots on Thursday night, leading the surging Sabres to a 1-0 win over the slumping San Jose Sharks.
Drew Stafford scored the game's only goal late in the first period, and Miller did the rest, as he continued to show his Vezina Trophy form of two seasons ago.
"It's an important time of year for us. I'm happy to be there with the guys," said Miller, who had shutouts on consecutive nights for the first time in his career. "They're battling hard right there. Just a night where I can minimize mistakes and get some help around me. It's fun to get shutouts, but in a 1-0 game when we really need the points it should mean a lot to the whole team."
The Sabres beat San Jose for the fourth straight time and jumped two spots in the Eastern Conference playoff race, passing Tampa Bay and Toronto to grab 10th place with 66 points; they trail eighth-place Winnipeg by four points and have two games in hand. Buffalo is 5-0-2 in its last seven games.
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi, coming off a 1-0 shutout Tuesday night of Philadelphia, stopped 18 of 19 shots, but against Miller, that wasn't good enough.
"Miller is a world-class goalie, and whatever he sees he usually stops, and I don't think we had enough traffic in front of him tonight," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said.
Stafford's goal late in the first period gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead, and that's the way the game stood entering the final 20 minutes.
Miller was under siege from the outset in the third period. Early in the period, Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic blasted a shot from above the left circle that hit the left post and ricocheted across the crease and out. Thornton ripped a shot that wound up under Miller's pad as Joe Pavelski tried to jam it home.
"We poured it on, couldn't score, but I really liked our game, for sticking with it tonight," Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said. "That's important. I mean, we gave up one goal in two games. We should have two wins in that case."
After stopping 22 shots in the first two periods, Miller stopped six more in the opening five-plus minutes of the third as the Sharks attacked a Sabres team that was running low on energy in the second night of a back-to-back.
Midway through the period, the Sharks had a 3-on-1 but Miller stopped defenseman Justin Braun's shot. With just over four minutes left, the Sharks nearly scored shorthanded, but Miller came up big again. In the closing seconds, Miller stood tall against a flurry of shots, and got a key block from Stafford of a Torrey Mitchell shot from close range.
"It's tough to play back-to-back," Miller said. "I knew we'd probably be a little tired. It was a great job by our guys to show some fight in the first period and get a lead and we could battle from there. I had my guys around me, and I could make my plays, make my reads. … The block at the end I was focused on Thornton and the traffic in front. He found the open guy, and if he's not there to block it, he has a lot of net to look at. Team effort."
Stafford said he just did what he's been taught to do.
"I'm just trying to hunker down there in front of the net," Stafford said. "They have such high skill level. They're flying around, making plays all over the place. Just try to collapse and try to get yourself big, and it happened to hit me. Above all else, we know we've got Millsy back there and would probably stop it anyway. The way he played tonight was just awesome."
The Sabres withstood the entire third-period onslaught without defenseman Robyn Regehr, who took a big hit from Patrick Marleau late in the second and suffered a lower-body injury. Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said he hasn't ruled out Regehr for Saturday night's game at Vancouver
"I haven't ruled him out, but I don't have my hopes too high," Ruff said. "We're just hoping it's not too serious."
Buffalo took advantage of a Sharks turnover to score at 18:51 of the first on Stafford's 13th goal of the season as the Sabres scored first for the eighth straight game.
Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, with Stafford pressuring him, tried to hit Clowe with a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone. But the pass was behind Clowe, and Buffalo defenseman Tyler Ennis knifed in to intercept, igniting a 3-on-2 rush. Ennis angled to his right and sent a pass to Stafford in the slot. Stafford did the rest, ripping a shot that beat Niemi to his stick side.
"I just hopped off the bench and Staffs did a good job forcing Burns, and he coughed it up a bit," Ennis said. "I saw a lot of open ice and just took it. Staff was calling for it. When Staff calls for it you better give it to him because he'll score. I thought he did a great job and knocked it home."
Niemi stopped nine of the 10 shots in the first, but Miller stopped all 11. The Sharks out-hit Buffalo 13-4 in the first trailed 1-0 where it mattered most, on the scoreboard.
Miller stopped 11 more shots in a scoreless second period, while Niemi faced only three.
The Sharks nearly broke through late in the second during their first power play of the night. Miller tried to send the puck the other way but didn't get much on it. Clowe reached up, grabbed it, dropped it in the slot and fired.
The puck wound up between Miller's legs in the blue paint, and Thornton tried to jam it into the net, but it bounced off Miller and back out of the crease. The ruling on the ice was no goal, and after a video review that call stood.
Clowe had another good scoring chance earlier in the period when he got to a loose puck just left of the crease and ripped a shot, but Miller stopped that one, too.
"It's unbelievable to see a guy be this good in net," Ennis said. "You never think a guy can be that good and make that many saves, but he does."
For the second straight game, the Sharks were without coach Todd McLellan and All-Star forward Logan Couture, who is still sidelined by a lower body injury suffered Sunday at Minnesota.
McLellan missed the game with concussion-like symptoms. He was accidentally hit in the head Sunday at Minnesota by the stick of Wild defenseman Marco Scandella when Scandella was checked into the boards in front of San Jose's bench. Assistant coaches Matt Shaw and Jay Woodcroft filled in again Thursday night for McLellan.
Center Dominic Moore returned to the lineup for San Jose after missing three four games with a lower body injury.