ATLANTA (AP) -- Ryan Miller put on quite a show for the guy
sitting high atop the arena.
Passed over for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, Miller turned
away 35 shots to lead the Buffalo Sabres to a 5-2 victory over
Atlanta on Tuesday night, extending the Thrashers' losing streak to
a season-high six in a row.
Jason Pominville scored a short-handed goal that put Buffalo
ahead to stay, and Miller blanked the Thrashers after giving up two
Watching the game from his ninth-story box was Atlanta general
manager Don Waddell, who is serving in the same role for the U.S.
While some considered Miller the best candidate for Turin,
Waddell and his advisers were concerned that the Buffalo goalie
missed significant time this season with a thumb injury.
Philadelphia's Robert Esche, Rick DiPietro of the New York
Islanders and Tampa Bay's John Grahame were chosen instead.
"Any goaltender loves to play for his country, but I fully
understand," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "I know how tough
those decisions are. Don didn't know about the recovery process or
how long it was going to take. He had to make a decision."
Miller is more concerned about his teammates in Buffalo than the
guys he might have played with in Italy.
"The biggest thing on this team is we don't want to let the
other guys down," he said. "That's the way it's got to be."
Atlanta led 2-1 after the first period, but the Sabres fought
back to close a six-game road trip -- their longest of the season --
with a third straight win.
Jochen Hecht created the play by speeding out of the Buffalo
zone, splitting two Atlanta players and getting a shot on Lehtonen.
The goalie knocked that one aside, but Ilya Kovalchuk failed to tie
up Pominville on the rebound.
Pominville swatted in his 11th goal of the season, causing the
usually calm Lehtonen to slam down his stick in disgust.
"I followed the play," Pominville said. "I don't think
Kovalchuk knew I was there. I just tapped it in for an easy goal."
While Lehtonen gave up a couple of goals off deflections, he was
disgusted with his performance.
"We are making some bad mistakes and I am letting some easy
goals in," he said.
Kovalchuk must have felt even worse. The NHL's top goal scorer
failed to hit the net for the fifth game in a row, watched
Pominville score the tie-breaking goal, and he was penalized for an
illegal stick with just under 5 minutes remaining, wiping out a
potential Atlanta power play.
"We benched him and his stick at the same time," Ruff said.
"Everybody on our bench saw it. You can't hide that."
Once Kovalchuk got out of the penalty box, he spent the rest of
the game on the bench. Clearly, coach Bob Hartley was disgusted
with his young star.
"It's a matter of showing respect to the entire team, the
organization and the fans," Hartley said. "I hope he'll learn
Paul Gaustad gave Buffalo some breathing room by scoring with
8:59 left in the third period. Alex Kotalik got off a shot from
along the boards that was knocked down in front, but the puck slid
right to the side of the Atlanta net, where Gaustad knocked it past
J.P. Dumont finished off the Thrashers with 2:40 remaining. With
both teams down a skater and the Thrashers pressing for a goal,
Dumont broke in all alone on Lehtonen and scored his seventh of the
Kotalik scored his 20th goal just 5 minutes into the game -- the
seventh straight time Atlanta has given up the opening goal.
The Thrashers bounced back to take the lead before the period
was over. Marian Hossa scored his 27th goal after muscling off a
defender to get loose, and Ronald Petrovicky beat Miller off a nice
pass from Peter Bondra, who shook off two players to find
Petrovicky open in front.
Buffalo D Dmitri Kalinin took a big hit in the corner from
Atlanta's Brad Larsen and remained on the ice for several minutes.
Kalinin hurt his upper back and underwent X-rays, but extent of his
injury wasn't known. ... The Thrashers claimed Pittsburgh C Rico
Fata off waivers before the game. ... Bondra's assist was his first
point since returning last week from a groin injury that kept him
out 22 games. ... The Thrashers held a moment of silence for
Coretta Scott King before the game.