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Miller, Ott star in Sabres win

PITTSBURGH — Ryan Miller wanted to bounce back from his last outing. He did.

Now he wants to finish well at home in the season finale.

Miller, who was pulled after allowing four goals in 22 minutes during his previous start, was a rock for the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday during a 4-2 victory over Pittsburgh. The goaltender made 40 stops, and the majority came from close range as the Penguins’ high-scoring offense buzzed the Buffalo zone.

“No matter what situation the game is, you prepare and you just go out and try to help the team,” Miller said in Consol Energy Center. “That’s what I try and do every night. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes it does, like tonight. You just keep moving forward.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot left to do this year.”

The Sabres have only one game left. They host the New York Islanders on Friday night to close a disappointing season.

Miller’s previous outing in First Niagara Center featured the four early goals and adversarial banter between the goalie and Buffalo’s fans. He wants to play in front of them again in what would be a milestone game.

“Yeah, why not?” he said. “It’d be 500, wouldn’t it?”

Indeed, Miller has played 499 games for Buffalo, a franchise record. The latest one was impressive.

“It’s always nice to win,” Miller said. “It does feel a little bit empty, but it’s nice to win.”

Miller’s efforts — coupled with a game-winning goal by Steve Ott and three-point night by Thomas Vanek — allowed the Sabres to end a two-game slide. They’ve beaten the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins twice in Pittsburgh in three weeks.

“We found a way,” Ott said. “It’s frustrating at times. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season, but consistency’s a main factor.

“There was never an issue if we could beat the best team in the league.”

Ott scored the winner with 2:34 to go after a shot by defenseman Mark Pysyk bounced off the glove of Pens goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Ott knocked it out of the air into the net, and the goal survived a long video review.

“It was nice to definitely get a break,” Ott said. “We didn’t get a break all game from the way we were playing. We never had a power play.

“Obviously, they called it a goal on the ice. I looked on the replay and it was close. It could have went either way.”

The teams entered the final period tied, 1-1, after Vanek and Chris Kunitz scored 20 seconds part in the first.

The referees played a significant role in keeping the second period scoreless.

Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera inched toward the net and went top shelf past Fleury with 6:25 gone, but the officials immediately waved off the goal and gave out two penalties. Jussi Jokinen was on Vanek’s back and got called for holding, while Vanek went for goaltender interference after getting ridden toward Fleury.

Vanek had a glorious chance to make it 2-1 when he stepped out of the box. Drew Stafford set up him for a breakaway, but Fleury got his body in the way of the shot from the hash marks.

Jochen Hecht, who has been named the Sabres’ candidate for the Masterton Trophy in a vote by the Buffalo chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, reaped the rewards of Vanek’s hard work along the boards to put the Sabres in front with 13:49 left in the game.

Vanek outdueled three Penguins to get the puck to the center of the Pittsburgh zone. Hecht swooped in and fired a shot past Fleury.

Pittsburgh tied it on the power play with 8:58 remaining. Jarome Iginla took a one-timer from the top of the left circle that whizzed by the glove of Miller to the delight of Penguins fans in the crowd of 18,630.

Ott’s goal and an empty-net tally by Vanek with 32.4 seconds left finally put Pittsburgh away.

“Against the top teams we played good hockey,” said Vanek, who recorded his 19th and 20th goals to help make Miller’s bounce-back game a victory. “The first goal, I think he wants that shot back, but besides that I think he was outstanding. He was great, gave us a chance to win, and we rewarded him.”


Sabres 4, Penguins 2

Slap shots: Ryan Miller (left) makes 40 saves as Sabres win in penultimate game as season comes to an end Friday at home against Islanders. ... Ott scores the game-winner with 2:34 left as Sabres end two-game skid. ... Vanek, Hecht score to give Sabres a pair of leads, but Kunitz, Iginla answer quickly.

Fast fact: The Sabres have won at least two in a row in Pittsburgh just six times in franchise history.

Next game: New York Islanders, 7 p.m. Friday in First Niagara Center.