The Buffalo Sabres used the power-play to their advantage Tuesday night in their thrilling 2-1 overtime victory over their Northeast Division rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, at the HSBC Arena.
Tyler Ennis and Jason Pominville both scored for Buffalo on the man-advantage, proving that their power-play was good enough to beat Montreal’s excellent penalty-killing. Ennis also assisted on Pominville’s tally, while Thomas Vanek earned two assists.
The Canadiens struck first just 5:19 into the opening frame on the man advantage. In only his eighth game with the Montreal club this season, David Desharnais redirected Roman Hamrlik’s initial shot by wristing the puck past netminder Ryan Miller. The power-play goal was Desharnais’ second NHL tally of the season since being recalled from the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal’s AHL Affiliate).
The first period was filled with injuries-mostly to the Habs, many little bumps and bruises by each other. Perhaps the worst was to Max Pacioretty, who took a puck directly to the arm/chest area upon a slapshot by his teammate, defenseman James Wisniewski. Pacioretty attempted to skate towards the bench after the hit, but then lost all strength and collapsed to the ice in agony. It was announced later that the 22-year old was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital, but the extent or severity of Pacioretty’s injury has been unconfirmed.
Shortly after Pacioretty left on a stretcher, fellow forward Michael Cammalleri was also maimed in the first when he was crosschecked to the back of his neck by Sabre Mike Weber. Cammalleri, like Pacioretty, did not return.
But the Habs weren’t the only ones who fell victim to the injury bug. Sabres foward Drew Stafford also trekked to the locker room in the first, having suffered a groin injury, and didn’t come back for the remainder of the game. The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Stafford, who has stepped up in the abscence of the likes of Derek Roy and has scored 11 goals in the past 15 games. As of now, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff doesn’t have an update on Stafford’s status.
It’s kind of amazing that even with the Habs tripping over each other and injuring themselves that the Sabres weren’t able to net a single goal in the first 20 minutes of play. However, their time finally came 11:21 into the second period when the score was knotted at one by Tyler Ennis. With Hal Gill serving time for slashing, Buffalo battled into the Montreal zone, allowing Vanek to blind Habs goaltender Carey Price. Ennis shot from the point, and then picked up his own rebound. With Price sprawled out on the ice, the rookie forward flipped the puck in the net for his 11th of the year.
“I didn’t want to just jam it into Price,” Ennis said about the goal. “I wanted to get him sprawling a bit. It’s important to be patient in those situations.”
Patience well worth it.
The third period was also filled with some drama, perhaps the most exciting being a squabble between Scott Gomez and Nathan Gerbe. After Habs captain Brian Gionta appeared to have accidentally knocked Miller with his knee on a rush to the net, the Sabres immediately defended their coveted goaltender and went at it with the Habs, with Gomez and Gerbe at the bottom of the heap. Within the final minute of the period, Gomez had the audacity to lift his stick up and nick Gerbe in the face, forcing Montreal to play shorthanded and giving Buffalo a chance to win it in the final seconds of the third.
While the Sabres were unsuccessful in netting one before the regulation time ran out, they were hopeful going into the extra period still with the man-advantage.
And it all paid off in the end as just a minute into overtime, Ennis and Vanek brilliantly set up Jason Pominville. Due to the crisp, quick sailing of the puck between Sabre forwards, Price had no chance to defend his net before Pominville popped in the winner, his ninth of the season.
It’s safe to assume that Buffalo fans were skeptical about the outcome of the game when they found out Stafford wouldn’t return. Another proven star out of the lineup, why wouldn’t they be? But the Sabres rallied though and finished strong, proving that they have what it takes to win anyway.
All they need to do now is carry their determination and strength into each future game and fight hard for that playoff spot they so desperately desire.