Several battles were fought between the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, but it was Montreal that ultimately won the war.
Just 17 seconds after the sixth and final 10-minute misconduct of the night was called, against Montreal's Andrei Markov with 2:58 remaining in overtime, Paul Bryon skated behind the Sabres defense and put a pass across the net that deflected off the stick of Zach Bogosian and into the net.
The Canadiens won the game 3-2, leaving the Sabres wondering what could have been had the game not gotten so out of hand. A total of 26 penalties were called, 14 of which were assessed to Buffalo. Buffalo was whistled for 52 penalty minutes while Montreal logged 48.
"I don’t think I've seen the type of calls that both teams received today in terms of 10 minute [misconducts]," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "But we certainly let the game get away from us with our composure level … No question it's the difference in the game."
After outshooting the Canadiens 15-5 and emerging from the first period with a 1-0 lead, Greg Pateryn tied the game for Montreal just 47 seconds into the second with the first goal of his NHL career. That score held through a period full of extra-curricular activity, which finally came to a head in front of the Sabres' net in the final minute.
Sabres goalie Robin Lehner got involved in that scrum much to the delight of the Buffalo fans, pulling Montreal's Michael McCarron down off one of his Sabres teammates and then swinging at him once he was shoved. Lehner then challenged Montreal goalie Ben Scrivens, who skated to his own blue line but nothing more.
McCarron and Bogosian each received two minors and a 10-minute misconduct in the scrum, but it was a two-minute roughing call against Lehner that left the Sabres shorthanded. Twenty-seven seconds later, with just three seconds remaining in the period, Markov scored the go-ahead goal on the power play.
"I'm not sure I would necessarily agree with the call and how the penalties were dispersed, but we give the referee an opportunity to call a penalty," Bylsma said.
Lehner said that he was simply trying to pull McCarron away from his teammate when the confrontation began.
"It's a big guy lying on top of one of my guys," Lehner said. "I don’t go in and punch him. I can do whatever I want with him. I grabbed him and pulled him away, he punched me, I punch back. Scrivens had a good 30 seconds to come do something. He didn’t … Next year, if he wants to go I'm right here."
Matt Moulson and Nathan Beaulieu had each been served 10-minute misconducts less than two minutes earlier and Nicolas Deslauriers received another to begin the third on the same play that resulted in a two-minute interference call against Marcus Foligno.
The Sabres killed that penalty, but before long they found themselves shorthanded again when Evander Kane was assessed two minors, one for cross-checking and one-for unsportsmanlike conduct. Thanks to a veteran play from David Legwand and hustle by Marcus Foligno, however, the Sabres were able to turn this penalty into a positive.
Legwand skated forward toward his own blue line, but then retreated back into the defensive zone to allow his team to change. Montreal changed slowly, perhaps thinking that Legwand had dumped the puck, but instead he hit Foligno with a pass through the neutral zone as he raced from the bench.
Nathan Beaulieu, already on his way off the ice, turned to try and catch Foligno as he raced toward the net but was too late to stop the forward's shot from bouncing in between Scrivens' pads.
"Leggy actually tricked me and I thought that he already dumped the puck," Foligno said. "I looked back to see that he had it and he made a great pass. Semi-breakaway there, I just tried to get a shot off quick and found the five-hole."
Buffalo had one final chance to win the game on the power play when Markov was called for an illegal check to the head with 1:57 remaining, but failed to score despite producing multiple quality chances. A game that had been slow for all its interruptions rolled into overtime, where Byron won it for the Canadiens off of Bogosian's stick.
"It's an unfortunate way to lose," Bogosian said. "It's a terrible bounce; it goes right in off my tape. But we have to take it as we've got a point out of it and go from there."
Sabres alternate captain Ryan O'Reilly returned from an 11-game absence due to a lower-body injury to play 22:02 of ice time and tallied the primary assist on Buffalo's first goal, which was scored by Bogosian on the power play with 4:43 remaining in the first period.
O'Reilly hit Bogosian with a no-look crossing pass in the right circle, and Bogosian took a slap shot that deflected back to him off the pad of Ben Scrivens and then batted the rebound in out of mid-air. O'Reilly's assist marked his 10th in his last 10 games and his team-leading 50th point of the season.
"He makes a huge difference," Bogosian said. "Just look at him in the faceoff circle alone. I mean, he's winning draws and it's a lot easier when you're starting with the puck rather than chasing it. He's a key factor for our team on and off the ice and it's good to see Ryan back."
O'Reilly won 14 of his 26 faceoffs (54 percent) and saw time both on the power play and the penalty kill.
"Without a question, it didn’t look like he missed a beat," Bylsma said. "His play, his energy level, he's been out for 11 games and stepped back in and was at an elite level."
The Sabres return to action on Friday night at First Niagara Center, where they host the Ottawa Senators for the final time this season. Buffalo is 1-1-1 against the Senators this season, falling most recently in a shootout on Feb. 16.
Coverage on Friday begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.