MONTREAL – For the first time in 14 games, the Buffalo Sabres were able to blast their victory playlist in the dressing room.
It had been a long stretch for the Sabres and they were finally able to get back on the winning side of things with a 3-2 victory Tuesday night over the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre.
Buffalo’s last win had come on Dec. 27, a come-from-behind shootout victory over the New York Islanders at home. They hadn’t won on the road since Nov. 29 when they defeated Montreal in a shootout.
With first-period goals from Drew Stafford, Matt Moulson and captain Brian Gionta and 32 saves from Jhonas Enroth, Buffalo was able to hang on and have positive thoughts after a game for a change.
“No words can describe what we’ve been going through,” Stafford said. “To have to answer game after game for about a month and a half, ‘What’s going wrong?’ and this and that.
“To just get that two points finally and in regulation against one of the top teams, especially when the ice was tilted for pretty much the whole third period – I mean let’s be honest, we were hemmed in our own zone. Jhonas absolutely stood on his head and bailed us out like we need him to. Also, the puck went in the net for us finally.”
Getting the win lifted a huge weight off of everyone’s shoulders.
“A vast majority of the time, these guys have been giving us what they have to give,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “Sometimes, we’re getting out-skilled on certain nights and getting out-experienced on certain nights, but the effort for the vast majority of the game has been there. To see them win tonight, it was great to see.”
The Sabres held off a furious assault from Montreal for much of the second and third periods. Brandon Prust and David Descharnais each score for the Habs. Desharnais’ goal put Montreal within one goal at the 4:20 mark of the third period.
The Canadiens outshot Buffalo 15-3 in the third period.
Gionta thought that for the most part, Buffalo was able to keep their composure during the onslaught. Alternate captain Josh Gorges was glad to see the team not slip into some of the bad habits that have cost them games.
“I don’t know if it’s panic. I don’t know if you have time to panic out there the way they were coming at us. We were just doing everything we could to hold on,” Gorges said.
“Obviously we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to learn from these situations and understand that good teams are going to come at us in the third period. You have to know how to weather the storm and push back again. We’ll get there. We’ll keep learning but the win was the most important thing.”
Enroth had to make some huge stops for Buffalo, particularly in the final six or so minutes of the third period. Montreal had about five or six close calls in the crease that Enroth was able to keep out.
Enroth said he felt good between the pipes and was happy to finally pick up his first victory since that game on Dec. 27. Buffalo also wrapped up their season with Montreal with a 3-0-1 record, including two wins at Bell Centre.
“It’s great, especially that we didn’t get the NHL record there, 17 [team losses] in a row. We had heard about it and we definitely didn’t want to get that,” he said. “We just tried to stay positive and everyone in there believed we could beat this team. We’d beaten this team twice before this year. It was great to have that belief in our mind.”
ANOTHER STREAK BROKEN
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price entered the game with back-to-back shutouts, but coming into the game, that didn’t matter to Buffalo in the least.
“I’m going to be completely honest with you, in here, none of us really care about Carey Price’s shutout streak,” Stafford said. “We had more important things on our mind, which was trying to get our first win in about a month and a half.
“We weren’t like, ‘Hey, let’s score the first goal so we can end their shutout streak.’ No, it was more like, ‘Let’s score the first goal because we want to win a frickin’ hockey game finally.’ It’s always good to get off to a good start and we needed to get off to a good start considering how much time we spent in our own zone the last half of the game.”
A BUSY FIRST
The first period marked the end of some lengthy scoring droughts for two Sabres. Moulson scored his first goal in 17 games and Gionta tallied for the first time since Dec. 11 (a span of eight games).
Buffalo was also opportunistic in the first period, scoring three times on seven shots to take a 3-1 lead into the intermission. Stafford opened the scoring 5:21 in on a one-timer from the slot. On the forecheck, Cody Hodgson set Stafford up in the corner for his eighth goal of the season.
Buffalo has now scored first in six-straight games.
“The big thing with our team is having depth. We haven’t got certain guys who can go out and get big goals for us. We have to get them by committee,” Nolan said. “Aand since Gionta got back [from injury on Jan. 27], the whole atmosphere on the bench has started to change. We’re starting to feel comfortable again. We’re not going to be the most skilled, fluid team on most nights, but the one thing you can expect is a good effort.”
Prust made up for a penalty he took by scoring the tying goal at the 8:15 mark. Coming out of the box following a penalty, Prust checked defenseman Tyler Myers in the neutral zone, stealing the puck and going up on a 2-on-1 with David Desharnais. Charging to the front of the net, Prust took Descharnais’ pass and put it past Enroth to make it 1-1.
Moulson converted for the first time since Dec. 15 to put the Sabres ahead with 5:07 left in the first. Torrey Mitchell was looking for Nikita Zadorov in front of the net, but Zadorov got tied up and the puck found its way to Moulson in the slot. He spun around and buried it for his eighth goal of the season.
Then with 40.8 seconds remaining, Gionta threw a pass out front from the left corner that went off Montreal defenseman Nathan Beaulieu and in to give Buffalo a two-goal lead.
An early Montreal power play could have turned the tide, but the Sabres penalty kill held strong. The Canadiens had seven shot attempts on that man advantage. One hit the net, three were blocked and another three went wide.
“The penalty kill, special teams have been up and down for us all year. In order to win games, you need to be at its best,” Gionta said. “I thought we did a good job for the most part of keeping them outside. They’ve got a very dangerous power play with a lot of weapons and we were able to hold it off as much as possible.”
In the third, the Buffalo penalty killers came up big again, preventing Montreal from scoring on a goaltender interference penalty assessed to Patrick Kaleta.
The Sabres allowed only two shots on goal while shorthanded.
“Usually your best penalty killer is your goaltender and Enroth, I thought he was sensational tonight,” Nolan said.
The Sabres open up a five-game homestand Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. from First Niagara Center.
The team, however, may try to savor Tuesday’s win just a little longer than normal before getting back to work.
“You’ll enjoy it tonight, but you don’t really have time to enjoy it because we’re right back at it in a couple days,” Gorges said. “That’s the thing about this game, whether you win or lose, you move on to the next day and you get ready for the next challenge.”