GLENDALE -- The Phoenix Coyotes lost a game in Buffalo last month to plain bad luck. On Thursday, it was the Coyotes who were just plain bad.
Zemgus Girgensons snapped a 2-2 tie with an unassisted shorthanded goal 1:52 into the third period to lead the Buffalo Sabres to a 3-2 victory and a season sweep of the Coyotes.
The Coyotes had a chance to take the lead when Buffalo center Cody Hodgson was assessed his third penalty of the game 1:30 into the third. But Buffalo's Brian Flynn pushed the puck into the Phoenix zone, outworking several Coyotes before centering the puck. Girgensons was there to take the puck off the stick of Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle near the left post and put it between the pads of goalie Thomas Greiss for the game-winner.
"I saw the opportunity to poke the puck and luckily it went through," Girgensons said. "He definitely didn't see me. I caught him kind of by surprise from the back."
Ryan Miller made 38 saves for Buffalo and improved to 6-0-0 against Phoenix in his career. Tyler Ennis and Steve Ott also scored for the Sabres.
The Sabres have 15 wins this season, the fewest in the NHL, but two have come in unique fashion against Phoenix. On Dec. 23, they won 2-1 in Buffalo when Phoenix goalie Mike Smith skated back into his own net in overtime, unaware a fluttering puck had lodged in the back of his hockey pants.
"You play a team like this they are well-coached, and sometimes you get a little luck," Buffalo Head Coach Ted Nolan said. "We played hard against them but we had a little Lady Luck on the side too."
After putting 21 shots on Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller in the first period and coming out with a 2-1 lead on goals 18 seconds apart by Antoine Vermette and David Moss, the Coyotes were held to just one shot in the first 12:54 of the second period. They never found their stride again.
"We're up 2-1 to start the second and we do nothing, absolutely nothing as a group," an angry captain Shane Doan said. "We have a chance to put a team away up 2-1 at home and I don't think we had a shot for 12 minutes. It's embarrassing. That's how the game got away.
"We scored two goals in a minute and a half and then we do nothing. We let them think they can play. We let them back in the game and they find a way to get a lucky bounce and they find a way to win a game. And we find a way to lose another one."
On a night when several of the teams around them in the Western Conference playoff race lost, the Coyotes did the same and let a golden opportunity get away.
"You're at home and you know how big the game is," Doan said. "Come on. It's as a group and it's me, 100 percent me. It's just not acceptable."
The Coyotes put 21 shots on Miller in the first period, but the Sabres scored the first goal on a nice play by their top line. Matt Moulson was alone in front of the crease and was set up by Girgensons. Greiss stopped his point-blank shot but Ennis pounced on the rebound and put it high under the crossbar at 6:08 for his 12th goal.
Buffalo scored the first goal of a game for the 17th time in 53 games this season, but 18 minutes of hard work evaporated late in the first period.
Hodgson was penalized for holding Martin Hanzal and the red-hot Phoenix power play cashed in. Miller stopped Yandle's shot through traffic from center point, but Mikkel Boedker poked the rebound to the side of the net, where Vermette was waiting to sweep it in at 18:38.
Vermette's 20th goal of the season was his eighth in eight games and extended his point streak to six games.
Eighteen seconds later, Jeff Halpern carried a Zbynek Michalek pass hard to the left post. Miller stopped the shot but the rebound squirted out between the circles to a wide-open Moss, who flipped in a backhander for his sixth goal and first in 17 games to make it 2-1.
But as dominant as the Coyotes were in the first period, they were just as bad in the second, when an early holding penalty to Paul Bissonnette proved costly.
Greiss stopped Alexander Sulzer's shot from the point, but two Sabres were in the crease to battle for the rebound. Ville Leino pushed at the puck before Ott got it on his stick and punched in a power-play goal at 6:38. Ott's eighth goal of the season was the ninth road power-play goal in 24 games for Buffalo.
The scored stayed 2-2 until Girgensons made his big play.
"The winning goal was just a poor mistake on our part," Phoenix Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "Their guy (Flynn) outworks all four of our guys coming back and creates a loose puck. We all skate by it, which ends up in the first chance. Then we all skate by it again and it ends up in the second chance."
Moulson left the game after a hit by Doan in the third period. Nolan said Moulson was slashed on the wrist and also took a cross check, but wasn't sure of his condition.
Referee Trevor Hanson was injured late in the second period when an Oliver Ekman-Larsson shot skimmed off the crossbar and hit him squarely in the nose. Hanson, refereeing his seventh game in the NHL, skated off the ice under his own power and later returned.