BOSTON (LGS) — The puck was in Ryan Miller's glove to start the game, and it was in there to finish it.
From his incredible grab of Marc Savard's sure goal 84 seconds into the first period to his insignificant clutch of Zdeno Chara's rink-long volley as time expired in the third, Miller was where the biggest win of the season began and ended.
As the game came to a close, Miller flicked the puck toward the side boards and pumped his fist like he was Tiger Woods and a birdie putt had just given him another green jacket.
The Sabres' 4-2 win over the league-leading Bruins, ending Boston's 10-game winning streak, felt that big.
In between the glove saves, Miller had more than enough offensive support — 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 leads to defend — and didn't relent, making 29 saves and overshadowing the spasmodic Tim Thomas at the other end.
Miller was sharp. In the first period, he had to flash his left pad to make a save on Jochen Hecht after Hecht cleanly won a faceoff to the goaltender's right. (He was a bit lucky, too. Mark Stuart hit the left post with a little over a minute remaining in the opening period.)
Especially sharp in a third period that saw the Bruins outshoot the Sabres 11-2. Miller was at his best midway through the period with Toni Lydman off for interference. Of five saves during the Boston power play, his finest came when he got his blocker on Michael Ryder's shot from very close range.
But nothing was better than the save on Savard.
After back to back turnovers by Clarke MacArthur at center ice and in the right-wing corner of the Buffalo zone, Phil Kessel walked to the front of the net. Miller stopped Kessel's backhand shot and went ass over teakettles while doing it. With Miller rolling over onto his belly, the rebound of P.J. Axelsson's bad-angle shot landed on Savard's stick at the bottom edge of the right circle. Savard was in Celtic green, seeing nothing but net.
Still down, Miller reached up and snared Savard's one-timer, leaving the Bruin to hold his stick up in his left hand for several seconds in disbelief and the fans to lurch back into their seats.
It came close to rivaling that acrobatic stick save on Paul Mara two years ago in the same building.
Enter Matt Ellis
Miller's highlight save doesn't happen without MacArthur's turnovers, and oddly enough, maybe Matt Ellis' highlight day doesn't either.
Lindy Ruff vowed to take ice time from underperforming players and move them down the depth chart, eventually out of the lineup if necessary, the way your body works a splinter out of your hand. The process can also allow a player to work his way under your skin. On this day, of course, that player was Ellis.
The 27-year-old with the cap hit of less than half a million clams watched MacArthur take the second shift of the game on left wing with Paul Gaustad and Jason Pominville. He watched those turnovers.
When the line hit the ice again a few minutes later, it was with Ellis on left wing and not MacArthur.
Gaustad charged after a Hecht line-change dump-in, won the puck in the opposite corner and skated hard to the net. With Gaustad operating the wrecking ball, Ellis swiped the rebound of Henrik Tallinder's long shot into the net while falling to the ice to give the Sabres an early 1-0 lead.
If Miller's throwaway save on Chara was the symbolic moment of the afternoon, here's a very close second:
With 13 minutes to go in the third period, Pominville slipped the puck off the boards at center, putting enough on it to give the Sabres time to change but not enough to send it over the icing line.
The perfect touch on a day the Sabres had it, and good timing, in spades.
• The Sabres plugged in after Miller's early signature save, scoring twice in the next three and a half minutes.
• Buffalo opened the second with a terrible sequence, winning the opening faceoff but Jaroslav Spacek handing the puck to Shawn Thornton for a shot on goal at the five-second mark. Defense partner Andrej Sekera followed with a turnover of his own a few seconds later. But Gaustad, personally making good on his own challenge after the Washington debacle to take no more shifts off, came off the bench to lay the body in the Buffalo zone. Then he went to work at the opposite end.
Suddenly the Sabres were cycling the puck and the ice was no longer tilted toward Beantown. At 3:04 of the second, it was 3-1 after the Sabres played keepaway and Ellis took his sweet time to roof Ales Kotalik's rebound over Thomas for his second goal of the game.
• The Sabres failed to convert on a power play, a Thomas Vanek breakaway and another point-blank chance for Ellis, in quick succession, Ellis' hat trick foiled by the stick of Dennis Wideman. Boston made it 3-2 at midperiod, but the Sabres regained their two-goal lead three minutes later on Gaustad's second goal.
Sabres stay disciplined
Milan Lucic dropped Derek Roy and ran Vanek into the boards. Chara gave Vanek the business down there, and Ryder did the same to Sekera in the third — really down there. Or up there, actually.
The Sabres kept their wits about them and gave as good as they got. Adam Mair piled up three hits in one shift, and as noted above, Gaustad was Gaustad. Not surprising. But Vanek and Pominville laying the body was.
After the early hit by Lucic, Roy was a pisser full of vinegar. He went after Chara after Chara thugged Vanek, but not forcefully enough to wipe out a Buffalo power play. Roy and Chuck Kobasew ended the first period with a bang as they collided at center and crashed to the ice.
The only hint of an undisciplined penalty came when Mair was called for charging Aaron Ward in the first. Boston cashed in to cut the lead in half, and maybe the Sabres learned their lesson.
Big, bad Sabres
After the game, Ellis was talking about how tough it is to go from spot duty on the fourth line to regular shifts.
"I was huffing and puffing," Ellis said.
So were his teammates.
Together, they blew the Bruins' invincible house down.