On their heels and down a man early in the third period, the Sabres apparently had the Phoenix Coyotes right where they wanted them.

Buffalo rookie Zemgus Girgensons stunned the Coyotes and goaltender Thomas Greiss with a short-handed goal two minutes into the final period Thursday, breaking a 2-2 tie and lifting the Sabres to a 3-2 victory.

“Z was in the right place at the right time,” Buffalo coach Ted Nolan said. “With the energy he plays with all the time, it’s good to see him get one.”

The Sabres won for the second time in nine games by taking advantage of Keith Yandle, the Coyotes’ high-scoring defenseman who was left off the U.S. Olympic team for his defensive lapses. He had a big one in Jobing.com Arena.

With Cody Hodgson in the box for the third time after getting hemmed in his zone, the Sabres applied short-handed pressure with a shot by Brian Flynn. The rebound went to Yandle, who thought he had room to skate. Instead, Girgensons knocked the puck off his stick and through the legs of an unsuspecting Greiss.

“He had his back to the play,” Girgensons said of Yandle, “so I saw the opportunity to poke the puck. Luckily, it went five-hole.

“No one saw that coming.”

The large number of Buffalo backers in the announced crowd of 13,130 let out a roar, then held their breath as Ryan Miller finished off the victory with 38 saves. The goaltender improved to 8-3-3 in his last 14 decisions.

It wasn’t all good news. Matt Moulson left the game in the third period after a slash or cross-check to his arm. The left winger was still in serious pain well after the game ended.

“He got whacked pretty good, so we’ll see how it is,” said Nolan, who expects to know more today. “We’ll cross our fingers and hope it’s good.”

The win came after a slow start. The Sabres’ hotel in Glendale was a slap shot away from the rink. With one brief exception, they may as well have stayed there for the first period.

Phoenix opened with a 7-1 shot edge on its way to a season-high 21 in the opening 20 minutes. Miller stopped the first 17, but the Coyotes buried two in 18 seconds to offset an early goal by Tyler Ennis.