SAN JOSE - After taking a two-goal lead early in the third period Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks, the Buffalo Sabres watched it disappear in a flash on back-to-back goals by Tyler Kennedy and rookie Tomas Hertl. The Shark Tank was rocking, and the Sabres appeared destined for a fifth straight loss in a nightmarish season.
"It's been a lot of that lately where we get one goal against and we kind of go like, 'Here we go again' and feel sorry for ourselves instead of being angry,'" Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder said.
But this night was different for the Sabres. Instead of collapsing, they kept fighting and stunned the powerful Sharks 5-4 in a shootout at SAP Center.
The Sabres snapped a four-game losing streak and won for just the third time in 17 games this season. They beat the Sharks for a franchise-record fifth straight time and beat a Western Conference team for the first time this season after six straight losses.
"I thought the bench was good all night," Sabres coach Ron Rolston said. "We kept our composure. That was probably as loud an atmosphere that we had been in all season when they got that third goal. It was good that the guys came back. They bounced back. We were able to put some shifts back together and kind of catch ourselves."
The Sharks lost their season-high third straight game, the past two in shootouts and the other in overtime. They fell to 10-1-4 but earned their 24th point despite being unable to beat a Buffalo team that improved to 3-13-1 and still ranks last in the NHL with seven points.
"This was a fear of mine, that we'd be complacent and decide to play when we needed," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "That's exactly what happened. We were outworked and outdetailed for a large part of the game. We weren't nearly what we needed to be to play against anybody. We were flat and we didn't have a lot of energy.
"We played 10 minutes the way we wanted. The other 55 we weren't very good. That's as poorly as we've played all year."
Buffalo's Cody Hodgson scored the winner in the fourth round of the shootout, faking left then going right and beating Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi to his glove side. San Jose's Logan Couture opened the shootout with a goal, beating Ryan Miller to his stick side, but Matt Moulson immediately answered with a goal of his own, beating Niemi on almost the same move.
Drew Stafford, Cody McCormick, Tyler Ennis and Tallinder scored for Buffalo during regulation. Martin Havlat, Kennedy, Hertl and Tommy Wingels had goals for the Sharks.
Miller made 47 saves, while Niemi made 32.
The Sabres took a 2-1 lead into the third period and quickly extended it to 3-1 at 1:20 on Ennis' power-play goal with Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle in the penalty box for hooking Marcus Foligno. It took the Sabres just 15 seconds to score on the power play. Hodgson poked a loose puck from the left circle to Moulson in the slot, creating a 2-on-1 with Ennis on his right. Moulson zipped a pass to Ennis, who buried his shot.
The Sharks answered quickly. Kennedy scored on a rebound at 3:19 and Hertl on a wraparound just 70 seconds later. The goal was Hertl's team-high ninth of the season.
Once again, Buffalo rallied to take the lead, this time on Tallinder's second goal of the season at 7:28. Niemi blocked one shot, but he couldn't corral the rebound and the Sharks couldn't clear the puck. Tallinder, left all alone, ripped a shot from the slot past Niemi's glove.
"We stuck with it," Foligno said. "It's just all about rebounding and getting better every shift."
The Sabres had a chance to increase their lead when Kennedy went to the box for interference at 8:49 and Scott Hannan quickly joined him for hooking. But the Sharks killed 1:22 of a 5-on-3 and escaped unscathed.
The Sharks made it 4-4 at 16:41 on Wingels' fourth goal of the season. Hertl fired a shot from close range that bounced off Havlat and landed in the crease. With Miller out of position, a diving Wingels got his stick on the puck and poked it over the goal line, just seconds after a power play ended.
"We can't lose that game," Couture said. "We didn't play very well. We were sloppy with turnovers and sloppy on the power play. We didn't show up ready to play. We waited until the third period to show up and we got a point. We're too slow with the puck. We're standing over it and not moving."
The Sharks nearly ended it with just over three minutes left in OT when Kennedy hit the right post. After the game, there were reports that, based on replays, Wingels' had jammed the rebound past Miller and barely over the goal line before the Sabres knocked it away. But there was no video review of the play, and neither team brought up the play during post-game interviews.
Havlat gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 8:48 of the opening period with his first goal of the season, in just his third game since returning from offseason pelvic surgery. The goal snapped Miller's shutout streak against the Sharks at 139 minutes and 22 seconds. Miller had made 88 consecutive saves during that span before Havlat scored from close range on a rebound.
During that siege, the Sharks fired four shots at Miller in a span of 10 seconds before Havlat scored.
Buffalo had been outscored 20-2 in the opening period, while the Sharks had outscored their opponents 19-8 in the first period before Tuesday. So it came as no surprise when the Sharks struck first and took a 1-0 lead into the second.
However, the Sabres scored twice in the second period to take a 2-1 lead on goals by Stafford and McCormick.
"We just wanted to play hockey, play a good solid game the way we want to play," Tallinder said. "Don't get down on ourselves. Yeah, there were some mistakes out there from our side but don't get down after that. What do we do after the mistakes are made. I thought we really took a step in my eyes to see what we did after the mistakes. I thought we played like nothing happened."
Stafford scored at 2:36, making forward Tyler Kennedy pay for a turnover in the Sharks zone. Jamie McBain sent Stafford a quick pass in the slot, and he fired a wrist shot that trickled through Niemi's legs and into the net.
The Sabres took the lead at 5:53 on McCormick's first goal of the season. Buffalo's Zemgus Girgensons won a faceoff against Andrew Desjardins and Stafford got the puck to McCormick, who blasted it through Niemi's legs.
The Sharks nearly tied it midway through the period during their second power play of the game, but Wingels' shot from close range clanked off the crossbar . "On the power play we had a couple of good chances, but that doesn't mean anything until you score a goal," Wingels said. "It was a lack of concentration. When we execute a play fast we're tough to stay with. They played a patient game, capitalized on a couple turnovers. That was a good win for them."
Miller put on a goaltending clinic during the Sharks' third power play of the night by making five saves, two of them spectacular. He robbed Patrick Marleau, using his left pad to stop a blast headed just inside the right post, then denied Couture by extending his right pad to stop a shot headed just inside the left post.
"I think everyone tonight, you could tell the effort level from all the guys was there," Rolston said. "Just the communication on the bench, you could tell guys were dialed in to the game. I think it was a complete team effort tonight."