BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The only time Jhonas Enroth looked flustered Wednesday night was when someone asked the Buffalo goalie if he kept the puck from his first NHL career shutout.
“I think it’s back here somewhere,” Enroth said, pointing to his locker.
Otherwise, Enroth was perfect by capably filling in for injured Ryan Miller to stop 23 shots in a 1-0 victory over the New York Rangers in a seventh-place showdown.
Tim Connolly’s goal 5:28 into the second period stood up in helping the Sabres (39-29-9) earn their 87th point and move into tie with the Rangers (41-31-5) for seventh in the Eastern Conference with 10 days left in the season. Buffalo also maintained a three-point edge over ninth-place Carolina, a 6-2 winner over Montreal.
The Rangers squandered a chance to catch the Canadiens, and now sit in the middle of a race that has five points separating Montreal and Carolina.
“This was a big game,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. “We’re obviously disappointed in not being able to make some more ground and leave them farther behind.”
Credit Enroth, who was sharp despite making his first start in 17 days, while facing his boyhood idol, fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist, and with the Sabres in the midst of an ever-tightening playoff race.
And Enroth’s shutout came with his parents Erik and Eva in the stands, watching him play in person in North America for the first time in two years.
“I couldn’t ask for better timing,” Enroth said. “It’s a good experience and I’m starting to feel a little more confidence out there every game. So it’s really good for my confidence.”
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff wasn’t worried about going with Enroth.
“When preparation and opportunity meet, he did a heck of a job for us tonight,” Ruff said. “He’s a cool customer.”
The Rangers lost in regulation for the first time in eight games (6-1-1) to drop to 8-2-1 in their past 11. A lack of offense continued to be a problem for the Rangers, who were coming off a three-day break since a 1-0 win over Boston.
While Lundqvist stopped 34 shots, New York has scored just three goals in its past four games, including a pair of 1-0 shutout victories.
Coach John Tortorella was unhappy with his team’s effort, particularly after it was coming off a three-day break following a 1-0 win over Boston.
“They were the more desperate team than we were, for what reason I don’t know,” Tortorella said. “It’s not so much losing as how we played. We played better in the third. The first two periods are unacceptable.”
In rebounding from a 4-3 loss at Toronto on Tuesday night, the Sabres improved to 5-1-1 in their past seven games. And they did it without Miller, who is listed as day to day with an upper-body injury. Miller was hurt Tuesday when he was struck high on the chest by Dion Phaneuf’s shot in the third period at Toronto.
General manager Darcy Regier said there’s a possibility Miller could return by the weekend, when Buffalo travels to play Washington on Saturday and Carolina on Sunday.
Connolly scored on a power-play goal by slapping a 40-footer that appeared to deflect off the stick of Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi and beat Lundqvist on the short side.
The Rangers had a goal disallowed with 2:02 left in the first period, when Ryan Callahan knocked Enroth down from behind while cutting through the crease before Artem Anisimov converted a rebound from in close. Referee Chris Rooney immediately waved off the goal, ruling Callahan had inadvertent contact with the goalie.
The Sabres stormed out early, having a 12-3 edge in shots 12 minutes in, but couldn’t get one past Lundqvist.
Thomas Vanek was foiled in the opening minute attempting to jam in a puck in front. Four minutes later, Lundqvist kicked out his left pad to stop Tyler Ennis’ shot on the fly.
Enroth wasn’t tested as much, but still came up sharp. His best save came 15 seconds into the third, when he got across to make a sliding save on Derek Stepan, who was set up alone in front.
“He gave us a chance to win,” Sabres forward Jason Pominville said. “We’ve come to know what to expect out of him, and he delivered it tonight.”
NOTES: Sabres LW Jochen Hecht sat out after aggravating an upper-body injury against Toronto. Hecht has appeared in just four of the team’s past 14 games. … The Sabres recalled D Marc-Andre Gragnani and LW Matt Ellis from Portland of the AHL. … Lundqvist started his 21st straight game to match a career high set during the 2006-07 season. His shutout streak ended at a season-best 115:07 on Connolly’s goal.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)