MONTREAL – Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff wanted to see more out of his team in the wake of an embarrassing loss and an even more embarrassing incident.
When he saw that improved play wasn't happening over the first 40 minutes of Monday night's game against the Montreal Canadiens, Ruff took matters into his own hands.
Ruff loaded up a line with Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville and double shifted them facing a two-goal deficit heading into the third period.
It worked, as the line scored twice in the third to get the Sabres to a shootout, and goalie Jhonas Enroth improved his career record to 5-0-0 in that situation when he stopped Brian Gionta on Montreal's final attempt to make Brad Boyes' goal stand up as the winner in a 3-2 victory at the Bell Centre.
Considering the two days of debate over the Sabres toughness and character in the wake of their lack of response against the Bruins’ Milan Lucic after he ran over goalie Ryan Miller in Boston, Ruff thought this game was a pretty decent argument in favor of his club.
"We proved we're a pretty resilient bunch," Ruff said. "A lot of people wanted to doubt us, but I have a lot of faith in my team."
Roy had the tying goal and assisted on the other one by Pominville in regulation for the Sabres (11-6-0), who won for the fifth time in six games and improved to 3-0-0 in games that extended past 60 minutes.
Pominville said he and his teammates were in perfect agreement with their coach's assessment of their play in spite of their winning ways, and they came closer to what they see as the real Sabres team in that third period.
"He was right. We've talked about it as a team, and even though we had won four of five but we feel we're a better team than that," Pominville said. "I think after what happened a couple of days ago, we kept our focus and bounced back in the right way."
Prior to the game, Ruff spoke of his desire to see Lucic suspended for his collision with Miller, and warned that if that wasn’t the case it would mean that all goalies can be hit when they leave the crease to play the puck.
NHL Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan decided not to suspend Lucic because he felt there was no intent to hurt Miller, and described Ruff's comments as "irresponsible."
But Ruff refused to take them back after the game.
"I said what I said, and I'm not going to back off from what I said," Ruff said. "I'm not backing off."
Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole each had a goal and an assist and Carey Price made 30 saves for the Canadiens (7-7-3), who went to overtime for a third straight game but failed to come out with a win for the first time in that span.
The Canadiens were missing Hal Gill on defense, and with Jaroslav Spacek never returning to the bench to start the third period Montreal played the final 20 minutes with one defenseman – Josh Gorges – who has more than 100 games of NHL experience.
Martin said he was not sure if Gill would be over his illness in time for Montreal's next game Wednesday night, but he essentially ruled Spacek out of that game with an upper-body injury.
"It's too bad … we finished the game with one veteran (on defense) – Josh," Martin said. "The others are all young players. But there's nothing we can do. (Andrei) Markov, (Chris) Campoli, Spacek and Gill aren't there, so we have to work with what we've got and try to get more out of our forwards."
P.K. Subban is just 22 years old, but he was Montreal's second-most experienced defenseman in the third period. He played 27:37 on the night and made a costly giveaway that led to Roy's game-tying goal.
"Shift after shift, they were rolling them and they were coming in waves and we couldn't answer back," Subban said. "That's just about us keeping the game simple and moving the puck up the ice. We didn't do that enough."
Enroth made 25 saves and improved his record to 6-0-0 on the season, but it's his pristine shootout record over his career that is most astonishing, even to Ruff.
"He doesn't look big back there, but somehow he stops them in the shootout," Ruff said. "He's cool, it's hard to describe his demeanor in the shootout. But I think the important part is we've been able to score in the shootout as well."
The primary victim of Ruff's pre-game dissatisfaction with his team's recent play was franchise defenseman Tyler Myers, who was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career.
Myers was a minus-3 twice in his previous three games and was replaced in the lineup by Mike Weber, who dressed for his second game of the season.
But it took 40 minutes for the improvements hoped to come to pass, as Buffalo rarely threatened Price with high quality scoring chances and fell behind 2-0.
The loss of Spacek on defense for the Canadiens and a noticeable increase in intensity by the Sabres made the comeback possible, with Buffalo preventing so much as a Montreal shot on goal through the first 14 minutes of the final period.
In the opening minute of the third, some strong work down low by Roy led to him feeding a wide-open Pominville in the high slot. His one-timer beat Price clean for his seventh goal of the season, allowing Pominville to take over the team scoring lead with 21 points.
Then a Subban turnover deep in his own end to Vanek wound up on the stick of Roy, who went upstairs on Price at 12:30 to tie the game 2-2 with his sixth of the season.
Both sides benefitted from a power play in overtime but came up empty, setting up the shootout.