The NHL’s hottest team wasn’t hot enough to beat the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Buffalo won its last six games before Christmas, but the Ottawa Senators got 29 saves from Martin Gerber to beat the Sabres 5-3 at HSBC Arena on Wednesday night. Dany Heatley had a goal and two assists as the Senators improved to 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Ottawa’s 52 points are tops in the Eastern Conference, nine more than Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey and 13 more than the Sabres, the regular-season winner last season.
''We've played each other so much over the last two years, it doesn't matter who's going good or how the past couple weeks have been going,'' said Heatley, who had his 16th multi-point game of the season. ''Whether they are hot or not, we know it's going to be a tough game.”
Antoine Vermette, Mike Fisher, Wade Redden and Daniel Alfredsson also scored for Ottawa, which has won its last two games.
"They're one of the better teams in the conference, and I think that they think that we are also," Alfredsson said. "Both teams can use this as a measuring stick."
To Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, Alfredsson’s goal 26 seconds into the third period that made it 4-1 was a key.
“That one really hurt us,” he said. “We’ve been able to come back, and we battled back after that. But that was a pretty big hole — to give them three to play with for the period.
The Sabres rallied to cut the margin to one when Brian Campbell scored a power-play goal at 4:09 ( 700K ) and Adam Mair beat Gerber with 7:37 left to play. But Gerber made a pair of outstanding stops after Jason Spezza took a hooking penalty with 2:49 remaining, and Heatley hit the empty net with one second remaining.
"They were up 4-1 and we battled back," said Sabres forward Jason Pominville, who assisted on Jochen Hecht's goal 3:12 into the second period that tied the score at 1-1 ( 700K ). "We had an opportunity at the end with the power play, but we weren't able to score."
Vermette opened the scoring 1:42 into the second period ( 700K ), but Hecht tied it 90 seconds later when he banked a puck into the net off Gerber’s skate. That was the only time he was beaten during the Sabres’ 12-shot barrage in the first nine minutes of the second period.
Gerber was shaken up when he took Tim Connolly’s shot in the mask just four minutes into the game, but was able to continue.
“It shook whatever's left of my brain cells," Gerber joked.
Redden restored the Senators’ lead on the power play when he scored his fifth of the season — and 100th of his NHL career — at 8:02. Jason Spezza's slap shot from the middle of the ice near the blue line was deflected by Heatley and ricocheted off the left post to Redden, who put the puck into a wide-open net.
“They got a pretty good bounce on the power-play goal,” Ruff said.
Fisher made it 3-1 at 18:09 with his 10th of the season ( 700K ), shoveling the rebound of Chris Neil’s shot behind Miller, who finished with Miller made 19 saves in his ninth straight start.
"It wasn't our best game," Buffalo defenseman Toni Lydman said. "We have the kind of team that can beat them if we're playing our best."
Said Ruff: “They ended up at the end of the night being the little-bit-better team.”
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.