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Sabres' win a milestone for Enroth

Everybody knew the man in the other crease. For the past several years, Henrik Lundqvist has been the pretty face of the New York Rangers, their franchise goaltender, their one true superstar. He leads the NHL with 11 shutouts. He has an Olympic gold medal and is an eternal icon in Sweden.

Jhonas Enroth wasn't just subbing for Ryan Miller for some Wednesday game in November. He was called upon for the Sabres' biggest game of the season, which meant the biggest game of his brief NHL career. He stood opposite the man he idolized as a teenager in Sweden. And his parents were watching him play his first NHL game.

Lundqvist had been 6-0-1 in his previous seven games, allowing just three goals while stopping 113 of 117 shots over his last four contests. Enroth hadn't played in 17 days and was nailed to the bench until Miller suffered an "upper-body" injury that left people guessing Wednesday.

What pressure?

Enroth might have felt it, but he certainly didn't show it. He remained in complete control and led the Sabres to a 1-0 victory over the Rangers. He won the duel against his hero, pushing the Sabres past the Rangers into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. He was their unexpected answer for Lundqvist.

"He's a big idol for me," Enroth said with a smile. "I look up to him a lot. He's a very good goalie, probably the best in the NHL right now. It was a very big moment for me."

Enroth, quiet and unassuming, was unflappable all night. He kept his composure while craning his neck around screens, shaking off a bump early, sliding across the crease to negate Derek Stepan's chance in the third period, stopping Brandon Dubinsky on another, solid to the final horn.

Afterward, he wasn't sure where he stashed the puck marking his first career shutout, ironic considering he had no problem finding the puck all night.

Enroth made 23 saves in all, terrific goaltending backing up a great defensive performance after the Sabres' miserable loss the previous night in Toronto.

"He was really in the zone," defenseman Mike Weber said. "He made huge saves in every period. He was on his head all night for him. It's special for him and special for our team right now. The boys are pretty excited right now."

Heck, they had every right. The Sabres took another step toward clinching a playoff berth with five games remaining. They have the tiebreaker advantage over the Rangers and kept their three-point lead over the Hurricanes. Next up is Washington, the team they would face if the season ended today. On Sunday, see you in Carolina.

General Manager Darcy Regier held an impromptu news gathering that included vague answers and cryptic messages about Miller. Regier essentially said his goalie suffered an upper-body injury, did not rule out the possibility of a concussion, suggested he could be ready for the weekend, but maybe not.

The best guess is that Miller's injury needs a few days to heal or get his marbles in order but nothing serious. None of it matters if the Sabres play well without him. He might be the franchise goalie, but he would be the first to acknowledge he's not the entire franchise.

At least the Sabres know they have a capable goaltender behind him who showed no signs of panic under difficult circumstances. Enroth became the first goalie in NHL history to win his first three games by shootout, so clearly he responds well to pressure. What pressure?

"I've been waiting for this game for 2 1/2 weeks," Enroth said. "I just want to go out there and have fun, go out there and play my game."

bgleason@buffnews.com

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