Connolly scored in his return from a concussion sustained in last year's playoffs to help Buffalo beat the Washington Capitals 2-0 on Saturday and clinch the best record in the NHL.
The Sabres' franchise-record 53rd win was enough to lock up the team's first Presidents' Trophy title and home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs that begin next week. Buffalo will wrap up the regular season Sunday at Philadelphia.
Buffalo wasted no time ending Washington's disappointing season. Derek Roy and Connolly scored in the first 10 minutes, giving the Sabres a sufficient cushion and ensuring that the last-place Capitals would finish the season with the same point total (70) as last year.
Ryan Miller preserved the lead with his second shutout of the season. One game after setting a franchise, single-season record for wins, he stopped 26 shots for his 40th victory.
The All-Star goalie stopped four difficult shots in the second period and made a dazzling save from the seat of his pants in the third, prompting chants of "Mil-ler!" from the sizable group of Buffalo fans.
He stopped Alex Ovechkin's stuff attempt of a rebound one minute into the period and snagged a deflected shot out of the air 90 seconds later.
When Miller gloved Ovechkin's wrist shot at 10:51 of the second, the fans began their serenade. For an encore in the third period, he slid to his backside on a cross-ice pass to Kris Beech and denied Beech from point-blank range.
Roy put Buffalo ahead 96 seconds in. Olie Kolzig denied Maxim Afinogenov after Afinogenov's rush down the right wing, but Kolzig lost sight of the rebound, which lingered in the crease. Roy raced in and shot the puck in.
Connolly added an insurance goal halfway through the period. After Daniel Paille forced a turnover inside Washington's blue-line, he dropped a pass to Connolly, who fired a low shot that flew through traffic in front of Kolzig and in.
It was Connolly's first goal in almost a year. He had been sidelined by post-concussion symptoms and a broken bone in his knee that delayed his comeback six weeks ago.
The Sabres limited Ovechkin to eight shots and no points. He entered the game needing two goals to reach 100 for his two-year career. Instead, he finished the season with 46 goals and 92 points.
Notes: Daniel Briere's quest for a 100-point season was hindered when he was ejected early in the third period for spearing Washington's Milan Jurcina during a skirmish in front of the Capitals' goal. Briere's ejection ensured his first consecutive games without a point since Jan. 1-3. He has 95 points. ... Washington was 0-for-5 on power-play opportunities that totalled nine minutes.