MONTREAL - It ended in the most fitting way possible, with one last mad dash up and down the ice.
The Sabres had surrendered four one-goal leads and erased a one-goal deficit of their own by the time Rasmus Ristolainen carried the puck down low in overtime at Bell Centre on Thursday night. The defenseman lost the puck, leading to an odd-man rush going back the other way in favor of the Montreal Canadiens.
The ensuing shot from Artturi Lehkonen went wide and rimmed along the boards. Ristolainen picked the puck up at the defensive blue line and skated down the right-wing side, winding up for a shot as he neared the edge of the faceoff circle.
"It was a long shift," Ristolainen said. "I made a horrible play earlier. They missed the net. I was late coming in our zone and picked up the puck, looked up, saw they were pretty tired too, so I tried to skate as fast as I can and get my shot off. It's good it went in."
Video: BUF@MTL: Ristolainen rifles shot by Price in OT
Ristolainen's shot beat Carey Price short-side to give the Sabres a 6-5 win. The game was uncharacteristic of how the Sabres have played as of late; they swayed from the regimented, responsible style that led to three straight 40-shot efforts and instead engaged in a back-and-forth affair with chances aplenty for both sides.
They also showed the resiliency to be able to stick with a game on a night when they weren't at their best, claiming two points on the road against a divisional opponent.
"There's a lot of good things to talk about and there's a lot of [areas] that we were very sloppy," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "You look at the game itself, it was just uncharacteristic. A lot of guys were just off their game a little bit. We didn't look clean. Our executing wasn't very good.
"At the same time, we're down 5-4 in the third period in somebody else's building. We find a way to tie it up and win it in overtime. We've got to recognize some things we've got to buckle down, but I give our guys a lot of credit for battling through that and finding a way to win."
Video: Condensed Game: Sabres @ Canadeins
Vladimir Sobotka and Jeff Skinner scored two goals apiece for the Sabres. Conor Sheary added the other. Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Evan Rodrigues tallied two assists each.
The Canadiens were quick to answer each time the Sabres pulled ahead in the first two periods. The Sabres took the lead on four occasions in regulation, only to see it wiped away each time. In two of those instances, the Canadiens tied the game within a minute of the Sabres scoring.
Montreal finally earned its first lead of the game with 1:57 remaining in the second period, when Nicolas Deslauriers beat Linus Ullmark on a shorthanded breakaway to make it 5-4. It could have been a back-breaker, had the Sabres not kept pushing.
"It's tough," Skinner said. "I think especially right after a goal, you want to try and have a good shift. … It was just one of those games where you just had to stick with it, stick with it, and sooner or later somebody on the team sort of stepped up with a big play."
Carter Hutton was the first to step up, making a breakaway save on Lehkonen within a minute of entering in relief to begin the third period. That set the table for Eichel and Skinner to connect for the game-tying goal with 18:40 to play.
The play was set by Eichel prior to a faceoff on the right dot in the offensive zone. Eichel pushed the puck forward on the draw, skated behind his opponent and delivered a forehand pass through two defenders to find Skinner, who had peeled off to the slot.
All Skinner had to do was bury it into an open cage.
Video: BUF@MTL: Skinner scores off the face-off
"I think I did most of the work there," Skinner deadpanned. "It was a good play by Eichs. He has pretty quick hands there. I just try to go there and get my stick on the ice and be available for him. It's a big point in the game too, I think. Eichs comes up big."
"Huge goal at that time of the game," Housley added. "He's tried it before but this time it was executed at the highest point. Skinner had a wide-open net."
It proved to be the final goal of regulation. The Sabres killed off a 5-on-3 power play for the second time later in period and Hutton was a perfect five-for-five on save opportunities.
When Ristolainen beat Price in overtime, it turned what would had originally been a negative play into the highlight of the night. Likewise, it turned what had been an uncharacteristic performance into a positive result. The Sabres will take it.
"I mean, that was a pretty bad game," Ristolainen said. "You can't have those games. But I think this game is going to make us tighter and we're going to grow as a group here. We got a pretty ugly win. Grind it out, get two points and learn from it."
Sobotka gets going
Housley said Thursday morning that he flipped Sobotka and Rodrigues - putting the former at left wing and the latter at center - in an effort to get both forwards going offensively. Whether it was a product of the switch or merely a coincidence, both players made an impact early.
Sobotka scored Buffalo's first two goalson assists from Rodrigues and Reinhart, but even that doesn't paint a full picture of the chances they created. Rodrigues and Sobotka has three 2-on-1 rushes between them in the first period alone.
Rodrigues chose to shoot on the first of those odd-man rushes, only to see Price swallow the puck. When he got another chance, he slid a pass across the net to feed Sobotka for the game's first goal at 6:08.
Video: BUF@MTL: Rodrigues sets up Sobotka for sweet goal
Sobotka cleaned up the rebound of a Rodrigues shot for his second goal, marking his first multi-goal effort since he scored a hat trick against San Jose on March 9, 2013.
Video: BUF@MTL: Sobotka deflects in his second goal
Sobotka said afterward that he felt comfortable playing on the wing alongside Rodrigues.
"Yeah, I think so," he said. "He brings a lot of speed. He's got good vision with the puck and he's a good passer, good shooter too. It worked out well tonight."
The Sabres return home to host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon. It will be a Sabretooth Saturday at KeyBank Center, with up to four $15 kids tickets available with the purchase of one full-price 300 Level II ticket.
Coverage on MSG-B begins at 12:30 p.m. with the GMC Game Night pregame show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 1.