The season ended sooner than the players and fans wanted, but the Buffalo Sabres closed things out with a 2-1 shootout win over the New York Islanders on fan appreciation night inside First Niagara Center.
Ryan Miller was the center of attention on the evening as the longtime Sabres netminder competed in his 500th career NHL game. Miller became the 62nd goaltender in NHL history to hit the lofty plateau, and just the 19th to attain it with a single team. He achieved it while putting on an outstanding performance on the ice, stopping 30 of 31 Islander shots and all three attempts in the shootout.
“It was a lot of fun, I tried to enjoy everything,” said Miller after the game. “The crowd was very receptive, I really appreciate that. It made it a fun night and something I’ll remember. ”
It was needed for the Sabres to get the win. After a scoreless first period, Buffalo broke the standstill early in the second when the Islanders failed in an attempt to clear their zone. Thomas Vanek secured possession of the puck near the boards and threw it to Brian Flynn, who rifled a shot past Islander’s goaltender Evgeni Nabokov for his 6th goal of the season.
The Islanders finally climbed to the scoreboard nearly midway through the third period. Miller whiffed on an attempt to clear the puck out of the Sabres zone, and Keith Aucoin intercepted the puck before shooting it past a helpless Miller who stood far out of the net.
Overtime wasn’t enough to settle the contest, during which the Sabres killed off a crucial penalty given to Kevin Porter for hooking. Buffalo finally prevailed in the shootout where Thomas Vanek scored the lone goal for the Sabres as Miller blanked New York.
“It was nice to put it away in the shootout,” Vanek simply said.
Prior to the contest, Sabres president Ted Black presented the end of the season awards as voted upon by the players themselves. Marcus Foligno was named rookie of the year, while Mike Weber was named the unsung hero. The honor of most valuable player was awarded to Miller, who received a thunderous ovation from the crowd upon his acceptance.
A bittersweet piece of news was revealed at the conclusion of the contest as Jochen Hecht announced his retirement from the NHL. Hecht intends to return to his native country of Germany and continue his professional hockey career there.
“That’s tough,” said Miller about his teammate. “It’s hard to watch somebody have to step away from something. I’m happy he gets to continue playing hockey but we’re going to miss him here in North America. Now we’re going to have to hike to go see him.”