NEWARK, N.J. — Thanks for nothing, Mr. Schedule Maker.
The Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils were both on their third game in four nights and their energy tanks were nearly on empty Saturday night.
The teams slogged through more than 64 minutes and combined for just 39 shots on goal before the Devils finally pulled out a 1-0 snoozer on Steve Bernier’s goal with 40.2 seconds left in overtime.
Bernier, who played 17 games for Buffalo in 2008 after being acquired from San Jose for Brian Campbell, curled through the faceoff circle on his off wing to the right of Jhonas Enroth. Using defenseman Mark Pysyk as a screen, Bernier beat the Buffalo goaltender with a quick snap shot high to the glove side for the only goal.
Despite a mostly sedate affair, a boisterous Prudential Center crowd of 15,226 prodded the Devils all night and erupted when Bernier scored on New Jersey’s lone shot of OT. The Devils outshot Buffalo, 24-15, holding the Sabres to a season-low total.
The Sabres (6-20-2) thus split two overtime games over the weekend and at least could take solace in grabbing three of four points. But the biggest outgrowth of this one was the play of Enroth, who made 23 saves in his first start in two weeks.
Enroth had not given Ryan Miller a night off since the 4-2 loss Nov. 16 at Toronto that saw interim coach Ted Nolan brush off Enroth’s uneven performance by saying he was going to ride Miller as much as possible.
“Everybody has off nights. I didn’t question his ability,” Nolan said. “It’s just we need better. And we need better from everyone. Tonight he certainly gave us a great performance, so it was great to see.”
“If you ask me I didn’t think that was fair,” Enroth said. “It was three deflections in that game and I didn’t play for another two weeks, but hopefully he saw a better side of me tonight.”
Nolan undoubtedly did. Enroth packed several strong saves into his night to keep the Sabres alive.
Enroth stoned Devils forward Travis Zajac from the slot in the first period after Zajac intercepted a pass up the middle by Alexander Sulzer. Enroth befuddled Zajac again from the edge of the crease with 7:18 left in the third after a nifty back pass from ageless veteran Jaromir Jagr.
“Our goaltending has been great. Jhonas came in tonight and gave us that chance,” Nolan said. “He made some big saves for us, particularly in the first period.”
The Sabres were outshot, 9-3, in the first period. They had a 7-6 advantage in the middle frame but were again held to three in the third as the Devils had eight. Buffalo had two in overtime, both by defensemen.
The Devils played their typically stifling style that had them leading the NHL entering the game in shots on goal against at just 24.9.
“They’re successful year after year for a reason,” said winger Matt Moulson, the only Sabre with three shots on goal. “They play a strong team game and frustrate a lot of teams. We played awful in the first and Jhonas kept us in there.”
Enroth collapsed on his stomach in frustration on the winning goal as Pysyk backed in rather than attack Bernier, who had not scored in the last 20 games.
“He came down the wing there, cut in to the middle and I think I looked on the outside of Pysyk and he shot it on the inside,” Enroth said of Bernier. “Maybe I should have looked on the inside and stayed a little bit more aggressive.”
“I have to get in the way of that shot,” Pysyk said. “It got through me.”
New Jersey backup Cory Schneider made 15 saves for his second shutout of the season and second win in two nights in relief of Martin Brodeur. Schneider made a handful of good stops and got a break when Ville Leino hit the crossbar in the first minute of the third period.
The first period featured a brutal knockdown as Buffalo’s Marcus Foligno KO’d New Jersey’s Ryan Carter with a vicious right hand. Realizing the situation, Foligno held on to Carter until the officials helped the Devils’ player to his feet. Carter did not return due to facial lacerations.
Nolan had said prior to Friday’s game that center Mikhail Grigorenko and defenseman Brayden McNabb were only going to endure one-game benchings. But after the victory over Toronto, the coach kept the lineup the same Saturday.
“It’s one of those things where you have to have a reward system,” Nolan said. “We were planning on so and so taking so and so’s spot, but so and so played pretty well, so we can’t do that.”