It would be hard to blame the sellout crowd at HSBC Arena for having a feeling of dread when the Buffalo Sabres
and New Jersey Devils
went to a shootout Wednesday night. After all, the teams’ three previous meetings this season had all gone to shootouts — and the Devils had won all three.
But things were different this time. Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff shootout regulars like Ales Kotalik and Thomas Vanek on the bench and got goals from Drew Stafford and Henrik Tallinder to skate off with a 3-2 victory.
Stafford, 0-for-1 in shootouts this season, beat Martin Brodeur with a wrist shot in the first round of the shootout, and Tallinder followed with a nifty deke that left Brodeur sprawled while the defenseman hit the wide-open net. Patrik Elias shot wide before Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller denied Brian Gionta's wrist shot to give the Sabres their second straight win.
That the game went to a shootout wasn’t surprising — but Tallinder’s goal on his first-ever shootout attempt was. Tallinder was able to elude Brodeur's poke-check to deliver the win for a surging Sabres team that moved to within two points of idle Boston for the eighth playoff slot in the Eastern Conference.
''(Assistant coach) James Patrick told me yesterday to be ready,'' Tallinder said. ''I got the call, so I'm happy.''
Tallinder came in slowly before Brodeur lunged forward with his stick, then calmly moved the puck from his backhand to his forehand and slid it into the empty net.
''I know what guys usually do, and when you get a defenseman it's usually pretty rare,'' Brodeur said. ''It makes it a little harder when they come on you.''
The Sabres, playing their first home game after a franchise-record seven-game road trip, took a quick 1-0 lead when Michael Ryan scored 2:30 into the game. Jason Pominville’s goal at 8:04 of the second period made it 2-0.
But New Jersey got one back when defenseman Karel Rachunek finished off a pretty passing play with a wrist shot past Miller at 15:25. The Devils tied it 6:16 into the third when another defenseman, Mike Mottau, fired a pass that hit a Buffalo defenseman and went into the net.
The victory was Buffalo’s fifth in six games and moved the Sabres within two points of Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
''It was huge for us to get that extra point,'' Stafford said. ''We're desperate for them right now. We stuck with it, and it shows that we're hungry.''
The Devils, who overcame a two-goal deficit in Monday’s 4-3 overtime win over Pittsburgh, wasted an opportunity to move into a tie for first-place in the Atlantic Division with Philadelphia, which lost to Washington.
''I didn't think we played that bad,'' said Brodeur, who finished with 20 saves. ''For the most part they didn't get a lot of great chances.''
Despite not getting the extra point, Devils coach Brent Sutter was upbeat.
“As the game went on, we got better and better,” he said. “We battled back, tied the game and gave ourselves a chance to win. You’re always disappointed when you don’t get two points, but we’ll take the point.”
Oilers 4, Blackhawks 1 | Video
Edmonton capitalized on Chicago’s second-period penalty troubles to hand the visiting Blackhawks their fifth straight loss.
Chicago led 1-0 on Patrick Sharp’s power-play goal with 43 seconds left in the opening period. But hooking calls against Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook early in the second period led to power-play goals by Jarret Stoll and Dustin Penner that gave the Oilers a 2-1 lead 8:10 into the period.
“We played pretty well in the first period, but we took two soft penalties in the second period — and that’s what happens,” Hawks coach Denis Savard said of the Oilers’ power-play goals. “We can’t give up easy goals off easy penalties.”
Ethan Moreau redirected Ladislav Smid’s shot past Patrick Lalime 34 seconds after Penner’s goal for a 3-1 advantage, and Joni Pitkanen scored 51 seconds into third period as he skated to the top of the faceoff circle before sending a shot over Lalime's shoulder.
“We’re taking a lot of pride in the way we’re playing the game right now,” Moreau said. “Things are falling into place.”
The Oilers moved within a game of the break-even mark with their second victory in three nights. They routed Calgary 5-0 on Monday.
“We had lots of energy — lots of good things happening,” coach Craig MacTavish said. “I can’t think of a time this season when I’ve seen this much life on the bench. I hope we can continue the same way.”
The Blackhawks had lots of chances — they had nine power plays and fired 41 shots on goal. But Mathieu Garon made 40 saves, including 21 in the third period.
“We could have had a lot more than one goal,” Savard said. “Garon played a great game for them.”
Avalanche 3, Sharks 1 | Video
Jose Theodore came back after missing three games with back spasms — just in time to spoil the Sharks’ night. Theodore made 30 saves, 26 in the final two periods, as the Avs spent the last 27 minutes hanging on after T.J. Hensick’s go-ahead goal.
Colorado got both goals on deflections of Brett Clark shots from the point. Ben Guite put the Avalanche ahead with his tip past Evgeni Nabokov at 10:24 of the first period. After Patrick Marleau tied it with a power-play goal at 5:53 of the second, Hensick put Colorado ahead to stay when he got his stick on Clark’s shot at 12:51, six seconds into a power play.
''We're moving the puck well, entering the zone with speed and making smart (plays),'' Hensick said. ''They're a physical team, but we stayed with them, and Theodore played great.''
Theodore did the rest, withstanding a 90-second barrage after the Sharks pulled Nabokov before Jeff Finger slid the puck the length of the ice into an empty net with 0.6 seconds remaining.
''They came at me pretty hard, so it was a good test for my back,'' Theodore said. ''It's hard to take those extra days off, but it was the smart thing to do. The back was great and the guys played really well.”
Avs coach Joel Quenneville said his goalie showed no ill effects from the layoff.
“He was as quick as I’ve ever seen him,” Quenneville said. “He had a special game.”
The Avs have been focusing on defense while playing without three of their top forwards — Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny and Ryan Smyth. Stastny could be back this week, but the other two are nowhere near ready.
''They play really well in their own zone positionally, and they're really good with their sticks,'' Marleau said. ''That's the thing about having depth on a hockey club. They've got quite a few guys stepping up right now.''
The Sharks had their three-game home winning streak snapped and fell back to 12-12-4 at HP Pavilion.
'We got going in the second (period), but we could never get ahead of them,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. “We controlled play in the last two-thirds and had all of the scoring chances, but their goalie came up huge when he needed to.''
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.