Not only did the Buffalo Sabres miss a chance Friday night to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they still can’t figure out how to beat the Ottawa Senators.
Brian Elliott stopped 41 shots and the Senators got a goal and an assist each from Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson as they doubled up the Sabres 4-2 at HSBC Arena, their fifth win in as many matchups this season against Buffalo and ninth in a row overall.
"We've always played well against Buffalo," Alfredsson said. "They're all good games, but we're obviously able to get goals at the right time. We don't feel that because it's Buffalo we know we're going to win. It's always a hard-fought game, but we're ready for it. They kind of bring the best out of us."
Chris Kelly and Peter Regin also scored for Ottawa, which closed to within five points of Buffalo for the Northeast Division lead, although the Sabres have two games in hand. In winning their third straight, the Senators also opened up a three-point lead over the Canadiens for fifth in the Eastern Conference.
"We had some of our best players out, but a lot of guys stepped up," Spezza said. "That's what it's all about at this time of the year, because nobody is going to be healthy."
Ottawa played without leading goal scorer Milan Michalek (leg) and third-leading point producer Alex Kovalev (lower body).
Tim Kennedy and Jason Pominville had the goals for Buffalo. Pominville scored on a wrist shot from the left circle 1:34 into the third period to bring the Sabres within a goal, but they couldn’t get another puck past Elliott, who is now 8-0-0 career against them. Alfredsson scored into an empty net with a second remaining.
"We can’t battle back in games and hope to win every night," Pominville said. "I thought we got out-competed early and weren’t smart enough, maybe gave them a little too much respect."
Kelly got the Senators on the board first with the only goal of the opening period. It took video review to uphold, but Kelly was able to slide the puck under Sabres goalie Ryan Miller at 6:42 before the net was dislodged.
Ottawa then survived a major penalty to Mike Fisher for boarding Patrick Kaleta with 4:28 left in the first, with part of the five minutes offset by a slashing penalty on Tim Connolly. Fisher also received a game misconduct on the play.
"I was angry at the power play in general," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "That's where the lack of compete came in."
Regin then doubled Ottawa’s lead 5:36 into the second with a quick wrist shot from the right faceoff dot that whizzed past Miller.
Kennedy was credited with a goal that cut the Sabres’ deficit in half when a Paul Gaustad pass banked in off his skate at 10:52, but Spezza restored the Senators’ two-goal lead with 5:57 left in the period when he deflected an Alfredsson one-timer for a power-play strike.
Elliott stopped 17 shots in the first period, 13 in the second and 11 in the third. He also was the beneficiary of a shot that hit the post off the stick of Thomas Vanek in the third.
"Those are the types of breaks you need," said Elliott, who came in having recorded back-to-back shutouts against Montreal and Philadelphia. "You have to take those in stride, but I did tap the posts a couple of times after that."
Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.
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