BUFFALO (LGS) — The Montreal Canadiens saved their best for last. After playing rope-a-dope for a good part of the night, they delivered an uppercut that staggered the Buffalo Sabres in the third period and knocked them out in overtime in a 2-1 victory on Friday night at HSBC Arena.
So much for staying out of the penalty box and cutting down on careless turnovers. The Sabres did both. But Buffalo's big mistake was taking one too many chances with a 1-0 lead in the third period.
After outshooting the Habs 12-3 in the second period, the Sabres enjoyed a 9-3 advantage in the first eight minutes of the third. With 11 and a half minutes to go, the Sabres were still punching hard, but Dmitri Kalinin got caught at the Montreal line. Michael Ryder urged the puck past him off the boards, grabbed it and fed Saku Koivu at center. The Montreal captain sped down the right wing on a three-on-one break, closed in on Ryan Miller and beat him with a low backhand shot between the legs as the goaltender tried to poke-check the puck away.
The Sabres, playing with a rookie on each line and two on defense, were on the ropes: the Canadiens outshot them 8-1 the rest of regulation time.
Only a minute after Koivu's goal, Miller came out above the crease to stop Alexei Kovalev from the doorstep on another outnumbered situation, then a while after that had to kick out his right pad to deny Tomas Plekanec on a breakaway. With three minutes to play, Daniel Paille took over, playing goaltender on a mad scramble in the Buffalo crease as he threw his body on the ice and used his right forearm to knock the puck away before getting both hands up a second later to deflect Sergei Samsonov's shot.
Montreal goaltender Cristobal Huet, who went into the game leading the league in save percentage, was good, too, making 29 saves. Late in overtime, after Huet stopped Thomas Vanek for the second time in the extra session, this time on a breakaway down the left wing, getting his upper body on the winger's rising backhander from in tight, Sheldon Souray did not miss on his second chance.
With a few seconds to go and another shootout a near certainty, the trailing Souray took a pass from Kovalev, skated through the left circle and snapped the puck into the top left corner of the net over Miller's stick with one tick left, and the Canadiens avenged their heartbreaking loss to the Sabres in October. (It was the latest overtime goal in franchise history. The Sabres lost overtime games in 1986 and 1996 at 4:55.)
After getting outshot 12-6 in a rare scoreless first period in the new NHL, it was the Sabres who threatened to put the Canadiens down for the count.
Buffalo took a 1-0 lead at 12:27 of the second period after failing to convert either of two power-play chances that were courtesy of Maxim Afinogenov. A rushing Brian Campbell executed a give-and-go with Ales Kotalik on left wing in the Montreal zone and skated clockwise behind the net before spotting Jaroslav Spacek between the tops of the circles. Spacek waited a second before beating Huet between the legs with a forceful half-slapper.
After Campbell and Spacek teamed up, it was Daniel Briere's turn to draw two penalties, first getting cross-checked as he danced into the Montreal corner, then getting tripped on a rush into La Belle Province.
The Sabres swung and missed. The Habs connected.
On Black Friday, it was lights out.
Postgame Power Play
a two-minute read on the good old hockey game
MILD | medium | hot | suicidal
Tryptophan. That's the word you're trying to think of, the stuff in turkey that makes you feel sluggish. It isn't the tryptophan. It's the hockey game.
On a first-period penalty kill, the Sabres play keepaway from the Habs for about 15 seconds and earn a well-deserved ovation as the penalty expires.
With two chances on the power play to take a 2-0 lead, late in the second period and early in the third, the Sabres' power play comes up empty, only a weak Chris Drury try from in close that appears to be going wide and a long-range shot by Brian Campbell to show on nhl.com's play-by-play transcript.
Sheldon Souray. After getting undressed by Maxim Afinogenov in the second period, Souray puts on the hero's mantle in overtime.
Ryan Miller. Saku Koivu's shot is weak, and although Sheldon Souray's isn't, Miller goes down and gives him the top half of the net, and Souray takes it.
PPP Three Stars
1. Saku Koivu (goal, assist). Makes it a 1-1 hockey game.
2. Jaroslav Spacek (goal). Day off did wonders for the defenseman's game.
3. Cristobal Huet (29 saves). Big stop on Max in the second period keeps the Habs close.
(Official stars at right)
Maxim Afinogenov (team-leading five shots). Minus-2 but makes up for it by drawing two penalties, both on speed rushes. Dashes get the game going in the first period and keep the momentum on the Sabres' side in the second after Jaro Spacek's goal when he dumps a pass for himself in the slot and sends an against-the-grain shot on Cristobal Huet.
Cristobal Huet beats Thomas Vanek on a breakaway with one minute and one second left in overtime.
The Sabres don't score on a power play that carries over from the second period, their fourth in a row, but they keep threatening after it's over early in the third. Jason Pominville can't convert a rebound from a bad angle to the left of Cristobal Huet with an empty net, but Drew Stafford does get a shot away from almost the same spot — off the side of the empty net! The Sabres are THIS close to getting the proverbial insurance goal when Saku Koivu cancels their coverage and ties the game. Suddenly, it's Montreal's game to win.
On the Hot Seat
Staying out of the penalty box. After having to kill 23 power plays in the previous three games, discipline is under the microscope. Against the Habs, the Sabres take only two penalties. Verdict: The court reporter asks if she really has to read it.
The Burning Question
Where does Brian Campbell get all that energy, and where can the rest of us find some?
Crunching the Numbers
8 - Sabres' lead in points over Montreal a month ago
9 - Now
5 - Montreal wins in the last six games
2 - Games in hand for the Canadiens
2 - Shots off the goalpost in the first period, by Teppo Numminen and Brian Campbell
7 - Times Campbell tapped his stick on the ice, calling for the puck before he hit the post
7 - Blocked shots for Campbell
3 - Times in November the Sabres have scored only one goal in a game
“I was on fumes.”
—Sheldon Souray, on his game-winning goal at the end of a shift
In the Buffalo Wings
The Sabres travel to New York to play the Rangers on Sunday night. Madison Square Garden. Yeah, yeah. Enough already with those spots on MSG. We get it. (Wow, when the Sabres lose, it can make you cranky.)