The Buffalo Sabres defeated the Montreal Canadiens to extend their winning streak to five straight games. The Sabres had not won five in a row since January 1993. It was a chippy, gritty game that wasn’t that fun to watch until late in the third period. Both teams took turns controlling play but neither team was able to seize control of the game. Montreal only managed 20 shots on net but Marty Biron was forced to make some excellent saves to keep the Sabres in the game. At the other end of the ice, Jose Theodore made 27 saves but was victimized twice by the Sabres power play.
The Canadiens got on the board first when Michael Ryder was left all alone deep in the Sabres zone during a Buffalo break out that was broken up by Montreal. The Sabres defensemen were already clearing the zone when the puck was knocked back towards the goal from the blue line. Ryder was all alone in front and quickly put the puck past Biron, high on the glove side. The first period ended with Montreal leading 1-0.
The Canadiens extended their lead to 2-0 on a second period power play. Montreal controlled the puck in the Sabres zone and Ryder sent a cross ice pass to Dagenais who had the whole side of the net to put the puck into. Biron was not able to get across the crease in time and Dagenais buried the puck.
The Sabres entered tonight’s game with the number five ranked power play in the league. Buffalo finally got on the board with a power play goal in the second period to cut the lead to one. Jason Pominville set up Brian Campbell at the point and Campbell fired a slap shot past Theodore. Replays showed that Tim Connolly most likely tipped the puck in front of the net and the official score sheet has given Connolly credit for the goal.
The turning point of the game came at around the seven minute mark of the third period. Buffalo had a power play at the time that was one of their worst in recent memory. After Connolly gave the puck away twice, Numminen took a penalty for holding Begin who was being aggressive on the fore check. Mair was called for hooking less than thirty seconds later to give the Canadiens a 5-on-3 power play. Buffalo was able to kill both penalties and the momentum shifted their way.
The Sabres still trailed 2-1 late in the third period when they scored another power play goal at the 15:45 mark. Chris Drury was in his favorite power play position, down low on the goal line, when Connolly fed him the puck. Instead of passing the puck back through the crease, Drury roofed it over Theodore’s right shoulder on the short side. The Sabres have now scored at least two power play goals in 12 games this season.
The teams ended regulation tied at 2-2 and headed to overtime. Campbell, who was one of the best players on the ice tonight, scored the winner 2:15 into the OT period. Connolly had control of the puck in front of Theodore and noticed Campbell rushing the net from the left point. Connolly fed Campbell the puck and he one-timed it by Theodore on the short side.
Although the Sabres were outplayed by Montreal for large stretches of this game, they used a combination of good goaltending and special teams to steal a win and two points. That is the blueprint that Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff designed for this team. The Sabres are playing without three of their top players (Miller, Briere, and Dumont) and still finding ways to win with their depth, youth, and skilled players (Connolly, Campbell, Roy, Kotalik, Pominville). There are still problems with the team that need to be addressed, but every team in the league (with the exception of Ottawa) can say the same thing. If Biron continues to play well, Regier should have some leverage in a trade that he can use to address the defense. If Regier can tweak the lineup a little the Sabres have the potential to be a consistent top six team in the Eastern Conference this year. Its still early in the season but the Sabres have put themselves in a good position up to this point to compete for one of those eight playoff spots.
The Sabres will look to extend their winning streak to six games when they face the San Jose Sharks at HSBC Arena in Buffalo on Friday night. Joe Thornton will make his debut with San Jose in that game so look for the well rested Sharks to come out firing early on. The Sharks will be the first of five straight Western Conference opponents for the Sabres.