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Canadiens edged by Sabres in opener

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
Koivu picks up three points in shootout loss

Saku Koivu wasted little time collecting points, scoring two goals and adding an assist against the Sabres.

BUFFALO (AP) -- The trio of Saku Koivu, Michael Ryder and Christopher Higgins had a big night with eight points, but a Buffalo rally handed the Canadiens a shootout loss in their 2006-07 season opener.

Suspense, stunning goals and a shootout: Daniel Briere and the Buffalo Sabres certainly knew how to put on an entertaining show in their home opener.

After spending much of the first 59 minutes behind, the resilient Sabres scored twice in the final five minutes and then completed the comeback with a 5-4 shootout victory over Montreal on Friday.

"It's not a situation we want to be in every game," the Sabres' co-captain said with a big grin. "But it's definitely a lot of fun. ... We found a way to win. We're not quitters."

Maxim Afinogenov forced overtime by scoring with 15 seconds left in regulation and then scored the only goal the Sabres needed in the shootout, roofing a shot just inside the top left corner past flat-footed goaltender Cristobal Huet.

After Alex Kovalev's shot hit the post on Montreal's second shootout opportunity, Buffalo's Thomas Vanek sealed the win with a snap shot.

"We weren't going to stop no matter what," said Vanek, who added two assists in regulation. "We had to find a way."

The Sabres won by overcoming three two-goal deficits, including two in the third period.

They won despite a fizzling power-play that failed on all five chances. And they got a booing crowd - unhappy with the officials, who called three penalties on Buffalo during a 74-second span in the third period - on its feet.

Briere, Jiri Novotny and Jason Pominville also scored in regulation, giving Buffalo both its second come-from-behind and shootout victory of the season. The Sabres rallied from a 2-1 deficit for a 3-2 shootout victory in their season opener at Carolina on Wednesday.

Koivu had two goals and an assist for Montreal, while Higgins had a goal and two assists and Ryder added a goal and an assist. The loss spoiled Guy Carbonneau's debut as Montreal's coach.

"It's always frustrating, but we've got to learn from it," Carbonneau said. "There's breakdowns, it happens, and when you play against a team like that they make you pay."

The Canadiens appeared to have the game in hand several times, the last when Koivu scored - converting Kovalev's pass through the crease - during a two-man advantage with eight minutes left to put Montreal up 4-2.

"When you have a 4-2 lead and less than five (minutes) to go, you don't come up with two points, it's very disappointing," Koivu said. "But at the same time, you have to try to take all the positive things out of the game."

The Sabres responded four minutes later on what began as an innocent play following a face-off just inside their blue-line.

Buffalo defenceman Dmitri Kalinin got the puck and hit Briere, who was already breaking up the ice. Briere split two defenders and snapped a shot through Huet's legs.

The tying goal came with the Sabres' net empty and was set up when Briere and Chris Drury dug the puck out from behind the Montreal net. Drury fed it in front to Vanek, whose shot dribbled under Huet, allowing Afinogenov to poke it in the open side.

"It shows the character of our team," said Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who stopped 23 shots, and foiled Ryder on Montreal's first shootout attempt. "We feel like we can play the entire game even when things don't go our way."

Notes - The Canadiens, who play at Toronto on Saturday, open with a three-game road trip before hosting Ottawa on Oct. 14. ... Canadiens D Craig Rivet played his 600th career game.


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