Ryan Miller could be forgiven if he occasionally sees Sidney Crosby in his nightmares.
The Buffalo Sabres netminder has been on the wrong end of some dramatic, career-defining moments by the Pittsburgh Penguins captain. There’s the “golden goal” Crosby scored for Team Canada in Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics, beating Miller and Team USA in overtime for the gold medal. Two years before that, Crosby navigated through the snow-globe weather conditions of the inaugural Winter Classic in Buffalo to put a shootout goal through Miller’s pads and give Pittsburgh the win.
But, mostly, Crosby and the Penguins have tormented Miller and the Sabres in the everyday grind of the NHL’s regular season. Going into Sunday afternoon’s contest in Buffalo, the Sabres were just 2-8 in their last 10 against Pittsburgh. Crosby had a point in 13 straight games against the Sabres, with seven goals and 13 assists in that span, and had never been shut out at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center, collecting seven goals and 10 assists in 12 career games there.
Unfortunately for the Sabres, who at the quarter mark of the season sit just a few points behind an Eastern Conference playoff spot, Sunday would prove no different. Crosby racked up an unassisted power play goal – in a statistical quirk, the first of his career – and two assists in a wild game that swung from a 2-0 Pittsburgh lead just 1:27 in, to a 3-2 Sabres lead early in the third period, to an eventual 4-3 Penguins win.
The winning goal was especially tough for Miller and the Sabres to stomach. Shortly after the goaltender made an acrobatic glove save to rob sniper James Neal on a one-timer, with pinpoint passing from Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the winner came instead from an errant puck that floated off Crosby’s stick to defenseman Paul Martin, who was coming off the bench for a change with just 2:04 remaining in regulation.
“I think Sid was trying to pass it, and it kind of found its way toward me,” Martin said. “I just put it to the net and it went in.”
“It’s just a [bad] way to lose,” said a clearly frustrated Miller. “I don’t understand. Your guard has to be up at all times and they get right back in the game, and a broken play to seal it for them. It’s just preventable and not what we need to be doing right now.
“Teams are going to come hard, especially if they sense that we’re going to have trouble getting out [of our end]. We’ve just got to be better. Losing at the end – it’s 3-3, get it to overtime. We worked too hard.”
As for Crosby’s continued success against the Sabres, Pittsburgh’s superstitious captain didn’t want to overanalyze it.
“I don’t know if I want to talk about it,” Crosby said, knocking on his wooden stall in the visitors’ locker room. “It’s been good, and I think the games are always so fast, you always expect [that] and you have to prepare yourself to get up and down the ice. For whatever reason, I’ve been able to put some points up. It’s great ice here, that’s all I can say.”
Regarding his success against Miller in particular, Crosby simply pointed to good luck.
“I’ve just been able to score,” he said. “That one today, I think it goes off their D and in. I don’t think that’s because of Ryan Miller; I think I got a good bounce. I don’t think I do anything differently here or against Ryan than I would anybody else.”
“I think every player has places where they seem to get more points and teams they get more points [against] and sometimes even goalies they get more goals on,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “I don’t have any explanation for that. Those are the numbers, and they’re good ones against Buffalo and Miller.”
Crosby’s goal, which came on the Penguins’ first shot of their first power play, extended Pittsburgh’s hot streak with the man advantage to eight consecutive games. Their penalty kill, which held Buffalo 0-for-10 last season, also delivered, allowing a goal on a 5-on-3 but killing three other Sabres power plays, including a crucial one with the score tied at 3-3 late in the game.
“They have a lot of talented guys and put a lot of pucks in the net,” Martin said. “They got that goal in the second [on the two-man advantage] but we had a good response and ended up getting the win. For us to be patient and continue to work and find a way to win in the end is big on the road.”
The win lifted Pittsburgh one point over the New Jersey Devils to the top of the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have won seven of nine games so far this month, with home-and-home losses to the Devils the lone blemishes, and now return home for three against the Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.