Former Sabre Torrey Mitchell capitalized on a rebound off the head of the Buffalo Sabres goaltender and scored the winner with 6:39 remaining in the third period of a 3-2 win for Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Thursday night.
Brian Gionta had scored earlier in the final period to erase a one-goal deficit for Buffalo.
"It was a weird game," Gionta said afterward. "At spurts things were happening, at other spurts nothing was going on. But again, we've got to find ways to win these games."
Thirteen seconds after he blocked a pass to extend a possession in the offensive zone, Nicolas Deslauriers opened the scoring for Buffalo by tipping a Jake McCabe shot into the net nine minutes into the second period. The lead, however, would be short lived.
Alex Galchenyuk, the hottest player on a beat-up Canadiens team, tied the game nine seconds after Deslauriers scored.
"We had the momentum from the first period, think our forecheck was there," Deslauriers said. "When we score a goal, the next five minutes are crucial too."
Mark Barberio dumped the puck into the Sabres' zone and off the end wall off of the ensuing faceoff and Rasmus Ristolainen chased it to the right of the net. The puck bounced left to Max Pacioretty, who took a backhand shot from in-tight and created a rebound for Galchenyuk to bury into the net.
"It's a momentum killer," Gionta said. "You get a goal on the road, you get the lead to start the game, it's big. And then they come right back, it's deflating."
Galchenyuk scored again with Montreal on the power play with 43.1 seconds remaining in the period. As a battle for the puck ensued along the left-wing wall, Galchenyuk snuck to the net-front without being picked up by either Gionta or Ristolainen.
Montreal won that battle along the wall and got a quick pass to Galchenyuk, who wound up for a hard one-time shot from just outside the blue paint.
"It was a little breakdown all around," Gionta said of the goal. "I was expecting Risto to grab it and it's my fault for not dropping down the two feet that I needed to so I'll take that one."
Galchenyuk's second tally marked his fifth multi-goal outing in his last eight contests.
"We knew he came into the game red-hot, we knew he was on fire, and unfortunately we weren’t able to stop him there," Bylsma said. "Disappointingly enough, they had us on the ropes there for a lot of that power play."
Gionta tied the game on a give-and-go play with Evander Kane, passing it to Kane from behind the net and rushing to the net-front to for a tip-in goal. The Sabres had multiple scoring chances before and after Mitchell's go-ahead goal, but weren't able to capitalize.
One such chance came for Marcus Foligno, who rifled a shot off the post in the second period.
"I thought we played pretty hard," Foligno said. "We would've liked a little more offensive zone time, I mean it was a lot of neutral zone and back-and-forth … it was a tough battle, obviously is was a lot better, tighter game than we just played in Buffalo. It's just frustrating."
Lehner made 31 saves in the loss, while Montreal goaltender Mike Condon made 36.
SCARY MOMENT FOR P.K.
Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban was carted off the ice on a stretcher late in the third period after being hit hard in the head by teammate Alexei Emelin. Subban was battling Foligno along the end boards and was bending down when Emelin skated into him.
"I remember Emelin coming in probably trying to finish a check on me and P.K. probably fell down and got in the way," Foligno said. "Scary incident and I hope he's alright."
Subban was honored before puck drop as the recipient of Montreal's Jean Beliveau Trophy for his charitable work in the community. Gionta is a former teammate of Subban's and a past recipient of the award himself.
"You never want to see that happen," Gionta said of the injury. "He does a lot. He's got a great foundation; I mean he donated a lot to the hospital here so it's a big deal for this community."
Subban gave a thumbs-up once he was finally carted off the ice, but the moment had already left its mark on the game.
"You're trying to win a hockey game but you almost felt like you don’t want to keep playing at that point in time," Bylsma said. "You're really mostly entirely concerned for the athlete and for the person and the game's an afterthought."
Deslauriers' goal in the second period had significance beyond simply giving the Sabres a 1-0 lead. It also was the first time the Quebec native scored in his hometown, and he did it with his siblings and his nephews in attendance. His parents, however, stayed back at home.
"They definitely watched the game, they don’t miss one even when it's in Buffalo," he said. "It felt awesome. It's a place you want to play when you're young. You're from here, you grew up watching them and just playing is fun."
He could barely contain his excitement.
The Sabres will return home to begin a three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon against the Carolina Hurricanes at First Niagara Center. It will be the second of three meetings between the two teams, with the Sabres having won the first matchup 4-1 on Nov. 27.
Coverage on Saturday begins at 12:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.