It is understandable that Ryan Miller and his Buffalo Sabres teammates – and maybe even the referees – were a little sensitive.
The goalie, after all, missed eight games with a head injury before he was activated from injured reserve on Friday. He was hurt in a collision with Boston’s Milan Lucic.
So the last thing he expected – or wanted – on Saturday likely was for Jordin Tootoo – at full speed – to crash into him. That’s exactly what happened with 4:06 to play in the second period, though, as Tootoo drove the left wing, turned the corner on defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and quickly ran out of room.
Oddly, the incident opened up what had been a tight, defensive contest, at least for the Predators. Nashville had a 14-9 edge in shots on goal at the time and finished with a 34-14 advantage but did not solve Miller until it was too late.
A pair of third-period goals only cut two-goal deficits in half and the Predators fell 3-2 before a sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena.
“I was skating hard I dropped my shoulder in toward the net and it’s clear I tried to jump put of the way,” Tootoo said. “There was no intent to charge at him. That’s all I can say.”
Miller not only took the worst of the contact, he also took exception. The instant he and Tootoo crashed to the ice he started to throw punches and touched off a melee, which turned out worse for the Predators.
Tootoo was assessed a five-minute major for charging and a game misconduct. Paul Gaustad, the first of the Sabres to take up for Miller, ended up with a double-minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct.
“There were four guys throwing jabs at me for a good 30 seconds,” Tootoo said. “I’m defenseless, I’m swamped four-on-one. What am I supposed to do, take them all on? It’s just unfortunate that Miller didn’t get anything called [against] him.”
Added captain Shea Weber, who also was on the ice at the time: “There was a lot of stuff going on out there. I was in the middle trying to help [Tootoo] out and I don’t exactly know what happened, but there definitely were a lot of punches.”
Other than that, it was a good night for Miller.
He made 32 saves, his third-highest total of the season including one seemingly impossible one against Matt Halischuk four minutes into the final period. The win was his first since Nov. 8 and just his second in his last seven appearances.
“It was eventful,” Miller said. “I’m happy to get back and get a win. It’s been a while since I’ve felt I could put together a game a like to pride myself in.
“… I was ready for that one [collision with Tootoo]. I got my hands up and just got right in the mix after that. I can’t sit back and let guys take advantage of me.”
Things could not have been more different for Nashville’s Anders Lindback, who started in place of Pekka Rinne for the second time (and made his third appearance) in the last four games.
He had to battle boredom at times as he faced just seven shots in the first period and seven more over the remaining two periods combined. Still, Buffalo managed to score twice in the first and once in the third.
“I thought we played good all game,” defenseman Ryn Suter said. We just couldn’t get any pucks behind Miller early and then late we had some good chances. [Miller] is a good goalie. He made some big saves and kept them in the game.
“I thought we outplayed them and Miller stole the game for them.”
Tootoo has been one of Nashville’s best offensive players in recent weeks with six points (three goals, three assists) in the preceding six games.
Now he faces the possibility of supplemental discipline from the league office because he was assessed a game misconduct.
“I wouldn’t say [the call was] excessive, sensitive would probably be a better word just because of Ryan Miller and the Lucic situation,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “I think they might be a little over-sensitive.
“… In my estimation, [Tootoo] launched himself to try to avoid him and that’s the only way you can do that. … I really believe it was a hockey play, but it is Jordin Tootoo and it is Ryan Miller and the league’s ultra-sensitive to it.”
• Nashville center Chris Mueller played his first NHL game of the season after being recalled from Milwaukee prior to the contest. He did not have a shot and lost four of five faceoffs in 9:33 of ice time.
Center Blake Geoffrion was placed on injured reserve prior to Thursday’s game at Vancouver, and left wing Sergei Kostitsyn missed his second straight game. Each was said to have an upper body injury.
Mueller led Milwaukee with 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) at the time of his recall. He played 15 games for Nashville late last season.
• Defenseman Roman Josi registered his first career NHL point with an assist on David Legwand’s goal at 18:25 of the final period.
Josi was playing in his fifth game since being recalled for the first time.
• Defenseman Teemu Laakso was reassigned to Milwaukke on Friday, days after being activated off injured reserve. He opened the season on the NHL roster and appeared in nine games (he had no points) before an upper body injury caused him miss 11 in a row.