Just 24 hours after a dramatic victory, the Buffalo Sabres
saw the tables turned and suffered a heartbreaking loss that leaves their playoff hopes flickering.
Desperate for two points, the Sabres carried a 3-1 lead into the final minutes at HSBC Arena, only to watch as the Montreal Canadiens rallied. Tomas Plekanec scored twice in a 2:16 span to force overtime and Chris Higgins beat Ryan Miller with 1:22 left in the extra period as the Habs won 4-3 Friday night.
Higgins finished a play that began with Montreal captain Saku Koivu directing a pass from behind the Buffalo net out to Mark Streit in the right circle. Streit, who set up both of Plekanec’s goals, fed a perfect pass to Higgins at the left post and he directed the puck past a sprawling Miller to stun the Sabres and the sellout crowd.
“We showed by our comeback earlier in the year against the Rangers (erasing a 5-0 deficit) that we can do it,” said Alex Kovalev, who scored the Canadiens’ first goal. “We got confidence from that game. Anything is possible.”
Carey Price made 35 saves as Montreal moved past idle Pittsburgh and regained first place in the Eastern Conference by one point. Each team has four games remaining.
“We were a little flat early on, but somehow found that jump midway through the third period,” Price said. “It just clicked for us.”
The picture is much bleaker for Buffalo, which edged Ottawa on Thursday by scoring a goal late in regulation and then winning a shootout. By gaining only a single point Friday, the
10th-place Sabres are still four behind Boston for the final playoff berth in the East with four games to play. Two of those are against the Bruins, who still have five games left.
“We didn’t play our game,” Buffalo center Derek Roy said. “When you get that lead, you just have to keep playing your game, keep forcing the plays. We sat back all the way to the end and a couple of unfortunate plays that we shouldn’t have had.”
Nathan Paetsch and Daniel Paille scored 1:45 apart for the Sabres in the third period to stake the home team to a 3-1 lead. But the Canadiens began their comeback when Ales Kotalik was sent off for tripping with 3:44 left.
Plekanec capitalized with 2:31 to play, deflecting Streit’s shot past Miller for a power-play goal. With Price on the bench for an extra attacker in the final minute, Streit took a shot from the blue line that hit Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder in front and dropped into the slot. Plekanec reached back and swept it through Miller’s legs, tying the score with 15 seconds remaining.
“We showed character,” said Plekanec, who now has 29 goals this season. “We have to be ready for situations like that in the playoffs. It teaches us yet again that you can’t give up and you play the full 60.”
Following a scoreless first period, Drew Stafford got the Sabres started on the right foot by knocking in the rebound of
Roy’s shot from the slot 2:25 into the second.
Price kept them from extending the lead late in the period with a great pad save on Paul Gaustad
, and Kovalev followed by scoring his 34th of the season just 36.4 seconds before the intermission.
Buffalo outshot Montreal 27-13 in the first two periods and continued to control play in the third, regaining the lead at 5:30 when Paetsch flipped a loose puck in the slot over Price’s left shoulder. Paille made it 3-1 by one-timing Jason Pominville
’s passout into the top corner.
Despite seeing a valuable point slip away, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said there would be no quit in his team.
“We’re just going to stay in the battle,” Ruff said. “Stranger things have happened. We’re going to fight right down to the last minute of the last game.”
On the flip side, Guy Carbonneau understood his Canadiens escaped with a couple of points they might not have deserved.
"Luckily we played three good minutes to win the game," Carbonneau said.
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.