MONTREAL – On a night where the Buffalo Sabres needed a jolt at multiple points in the game, two players who had combined for just four goals entering Tuesday night were the ones to provide it.
It might come as a surprise to some that Sabres coach Dan Bylsma had Marcus Foligno and Johan Larsson in mind as players whose offense could help them beat the Montreal Canadiens, but that very well may have been the case.
"We were talking in the coaches' office before the game on where we were going to get our goals," Bylsma said. "Some of those names were mentioned and they came through tonight."
Foligno's fourth goal of the season opened the scoring in the first period and Larsson's second of the year broke a 2-2 tie in the third as the Sabres beat the Canadiens 4-2 for their second win in a row. Jamie McGinn tied the game with a power-play goal and Brian Gionta scored his seventh on an empty net.
Robin Lehner made 33 saves – including a stop on a Max Pacioretty breakaway that could have given Montreal the lead midway through the third period – for his second win of the season.
After exiting the first period with a 1-0 lead thanks to Foligno's goal, the Sabres struggled through the second. Dale Weise scored on the power play to tie the game 3:19 into the period and Alex Galchenyuk scored later to earn a 2-1 advantage.
"Maybe we weren't doing a good job of getting in around the blue paint, but we definitely did that in the third period," McGinn said. "We wanted to come out strong, that's tough building to win in with their fans – they're into it. But all the credit to the men in this room right now. We stuck together."
After the Sabres generated just three shots combined on their first two power-play attempts, it took them just 34 seconds on their third attempt for McGinn to earn the game-tying goal. With Sam Reinhart screening Condon, Rasmus Ristolainen sent a pass from the right circle that McGinn was able to tap into an open net.
"I could tell Risto's a great player and we were making eye contact the whole way so I just had to make sure I had the stick on the ice," McGinn said.
Larsson scored the winner with 8:24 remaining on a good feed from Jake McCabe. After Cody Franson's shot took a long rebound out to McCabe along the boards, the defenseman's pass found Larsson behind the defense in the crease for a tip-in goal.
"Larsson's been playing in a matchup role for us, playing on a line that's playing against other teams' best players," Bylsma said. "He's done a good job doing it; he just hasn’t been able to find the score sheet. I think tonight he was rewarded for that, nice to see him get it and get it the right way."
"It was a great feeling," Larsson said. "You always want to score and, yeah, I was just trying to go to the net."
Bylsma feared that the fact his team hadn't played in nearly a week wouldn't serve them well against a Canadiens team that already played a game coming off the All-Star break. It looked that way early, with Montreal registering the first six shots on goal.
"You're off for five or six days, they're back-to-back, you're going to have some rust," Foligno said. "Just the feeling of the puck again and trying to feel out the speed again and trying to be more patient when you get up to the blue line, but that's all going to come."
It came for Foligno just 5:10 into the contest, when he scored on Buffalo's first shot of the night in large part to a strong play along the wall by new linemate Zemgus Girgensons. Girgensons stripped the puck from Montreal's Jeff Petry and delivered a perfect pass from the corner before taking a hit by an oncoming Alexei Emelin.
The pass found Foligno in alone in front of the net, where he beat Montreal goalie Mike Condon with a wrister to the far side.
"I gave him a yell but, yeah, he knew that I was driving," Foligno said. "He kind of just threw it out there knowing that I would be there and we got it in the back of the net so it was fortunate for us."
SAM REINHART MAKES A BETTER DOOR THAN A WINDOW
Unless you're the Sabres, in which case he can be a window all he wants. Reinhart's net-front presence helped make McGinn's power-play goal possible, with Condon caught leaning to his left to try and see around a Reinhart screen.
"I haven’t seen the replay, but Sam's the guy in front of the net with the goalie's eyes," Bylsma said. "The puck comes through kind of the high tip, top of the crease there for Jamie to put in. I know Sam's planted in front of the net, that's where he's been effective for us, and he probably had the goalie's eyes so he couldn't see the pass."
RIGHT BACK AT IT
The Sabres won't have any time to truly bask in the win as their focus shifts to the second leg of their back-to-back set at home Thursday night against Boston. The two teams have split a pair of contests this season, with Boston taking their most recent contest on Jan. 15 by a score of 4-1.
Coverage on Thursday begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Sportsnet. Also, make sure to watch between periods to see who wins the first-round matchup between Brian Gionta and Evander Kane in Sabres Showdown.
The game can also be heard live on WGR 550 with puck drop set for 7 p.m.