If the Vancouver Canucks hope to still be playing hockey in the spring, they have to keep winning the close games now.
Vancouver needed a power-play goal from J.T. Miller in overtime to defeat the Buffalo Sabres 6-5 Saturday afternoon. It was a win the Canucks came dangerously close to letting slip through their fingers.
The Canucks held leads of 2-0, 3-2 and 5-3. They were ahead by two goals with less than 10 minutes left, only to have Buffalo tie game with 59 seconds remaining.
“We’ve talked about the same thing the last couple of weeks, staying with it no matter what happens during a game,” said defenceman Tyler Myers, who scored shorthanded for his first goal of the season and added an assist.
“We would have liked to have finished it off in 60 (minutes) but to do it in overtime was a good way for our group to keep playing the same way.”
Miller scored his 13th of the season 3:21 into the overtime after Buffalo defenceman Henri Jokiharju was called for interference. Miller took a pass from rookie defenceman Quinn Hughes and blasted a shot past Sabre goaltender Carter Hutton that sent the water bottle attached to the net spiraling in the air.
“I just kind of stopped in that spot,” said Miller. “Sometimes they go in like that. Pretty rarely for me.”
The Canucks are trying to end a four-year playoff drought. The win was important to keep Vancouver in the playoff picture in a tight Western Conference where the teams are separated by a handful of points.
“We have to stay in the present and worry about each game and try not to look too far ahead,” said Miller. “If you worry about the present, take care of all the things you can control, it leads to success at the end of the year.”
Antoine Roussel and Josh Leivo had two goals each for the Canucks (15-11-4) who are 3-1-0 in their last four games.
Roussel has three goals in just two games after missing eight months with knee surgery. Leivo has four goals in his last four games.
“Even though I scored today I felt like I had some plays I could have done better,” said Roussel. “There are small details in the game I would like to do better.
“We found a way to win so that’s good.”
Rookie Victor Olofsson had a goal and an assist for Buffalo. Marcus Johannsson forced overtime in the final minute with the Sabres’ goaltender on the bench for an extra attacker.
Buffalo’s Jack Eichel looked to have scored in overtime, but the goal was disallowed on the delayed penalty to Jokiharju.
“I just felt like we shot ourselves in the foot a few times,” said Eichel, who had three assists to extend his point streak to a career-high 12 games (10 goals, 13 assists).
“We kept battling through the adversity.”
Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger said fans were treated to an exciting game.
“The first period we didn’t really like some of our defensive decisions, we weren’t solving the pressure they put on us. In the second period we really found a way past the pressure and dominated.
“It turned into one hell of a hockey game for the people that were here, but we didn’t like the finish.”
Kyle Okposo, Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen also scored for the Sabres (13-11-6)
Thatcher Demko, making his second consecutive start, stopped 23 shots for the Canucks.
Hutton made 24 saves but is winless in nine starts.
“It’s been a rough go, so I just try to move on and get back to work,” he said. “That’s all I can do. It’s frustrating. It wears on me for sure.”
Miller said the Canucks didn’t panic heading into overtime.
“I don’t think we blew a lead,” he said. “It’s not like they were dominating in the third period. They just got a couple of looks on some breakdowns and scored.
“Sometimes that stuff happens. They had good players on the ice. We’re happy to get two points.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2019.