When Andrew Ebbett's pass from behind the Buffalo net landed on the stick of Chris Kunitz just outside the crease, the Ducks' winger flicked his wrists and sent the puck . . . trickling toward the net.
But Kunitz's near whiff couldn't have smelled sweeter when his unintentional change-up dribbled through the pads of Sabres goaltender Patrick Lalime early in the third period, providing the go-ahead goal in a 3-2 victory at the Honda Center.
It was the type of shot -- and the type of game -- that as recently as a week ago would have ended up differently for the Ducks. After losing nine of their last 11 games decided by one goal, they've won two in a row.
And as slowly as Kunitz's shot crawled over the goal line, the Ducks -- fifth in the Western Conference -- are crawling farther ahead of the pack of six teams that were right with them last week.
Though many of those teams still have several games in hand, the Ducks sit four points ahead of six teams and closed within five points of fourth-place Chicago.
Another thing they'd like to make a habit of is staying out of the penalty box. The Sabres didn't have a man advantage until the final 10 minutes, which qualifies as a minor miracle for the Ducks.
"You're asking and asking and asking and asking again," Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said of his desire to have his team refrain from silly penalties. "I think the whole key to all of it is not about the asking.
"It's about the ability to put the puck in deep and go to work. We're not playing the majority of the game in our zone or trying to defend. That's probably been the biggest change in the last three or four games."
It also led to the goal that gave the Ducks some breathing room. When Steve Montador's shot from the point was stopped by Lalime, Ryan Getzlaf poked it free and Corey Perry slapped it into the net.
The goals by Perry and Kunitz were power-play goals, extending the Ducks' streak with a power-play goal to nine games. The power plays came without the aid of the unit's regular center Samuel Pahlsson, who missed the game with flu-like symptoms and will have further tests today.
Ducks rookie Bobby Ryan, who scored 11 goals in January, was kept scoreless by Buffalo.
Not that Ryan didn't have anything to show for his work. He limped off the ice twice, dragging his leg after sliding into the boards and later holding his right wrist.
The first time hurt more, if for no other reason that it helped result in a Buffalo goal. Ryan beat Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta to a loose puck to the side of the net, but as he rounded behind the net, Ryan couldn't hold up under pressure from Kaleta and both crashed into the boards.
The Sabres retrieved the puck, Kaleta got up and went to the front of the net, where he got it back in front of flat-footed Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, and put it though Jonas Hiller's legs at 13:17 of the first period. It's the type of goal -- coming from an unmarked player in front of the net -- that has exasperated Carlyle lately.
The Ducks were fortunate not to allow another one, when Jason Pominville deflected a shot from the point that was saved by Hiller.
The Ducks finally got even when Chris Pronger wound up from the right point and one-timed a pass from Montador past Lalime at 12:43 of the second period.
With the trading deadline a little more than a month away, Pronger readily acknowledges his future in Anaheim may be tied to how the team plays over the few weeks. If the Ducks don't give General Manager Bob Murray the impression that they can compete for the Stanley Cup, Pronger -- who has one year at $6.25 million left on his contract -- is among the veterans who may be shipped to contenders as the Ducks begin to put their present in the hands of Getzlaf and Ryan.