With Buffalo sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, a 3-2 win over fourth place Montreal could be critical coming down the stretch. Especially with Carolina and Florida close behind in the standings. The two points Buffalo earned last night puts them in a tie for sixth with Philadelphia.
The game started with fairly even chances for both teams in the first 10 minutes, but Montreal slowly took control of the play and had Buffalo at their mercy for the last five minutes of the first period. Ryan Miller was solid in net and kept the score even, making a great glove save from point blank, and was a little lucky when the Canadians missed on a wide open net.
Buffalo started the second period with a little more energy and got rewarded with a lucky bounce.Jaroslav Spacek ripped a slap shot from just inside the blue line, which took a bounce off a Montreal defenseman's leg and got by Carey Price into the top right corner of the net.
Montreal wasn't about to lay down, as they got a lucky goal of their own on the power play. After winning a battle behind the net, Saku Koivu brought the puck out front and slid it through Miller's leg pads.
The Sabres responded with a lot of energy, especially from the fourth line of Nathan Paetsch, Adam Mair, and Matt Ellis. Mair and Ellis won a battle behind Montreal's net and passed it out to Paetsch in the right face-off circle, who then buried it top shelf with just over seven minutes left in the period.
Buffalo controlled the play for the rest of the period, and had a chance to demoralize the Canadiens when Jochen Hecht got a breakaway after a Montreal defensemen over-skated the puck. Price, however, did his job and made the save to keep the game close.
Buffalo continued to roll four lines through the third, and got rewarded again for their blue collar effort. Tim Connolly won a race for a dumped puck in Montreal's corner, cut out in front of the net all alone and lifted it backhand into the top of the net to take the lead for good.
Montreal looked like they could force overtime when they scored with just over three minutes left. Roman Hamrlik was left alone in the top of the slot, caught a pass cleanly from behind the net, and fired the puck top shelf with Miller at his mercy. A late penalty on Montreal captain Alexei Kovalev, however, took the wind out of their sails.
Even when Maxim LaPierre dove to catch a long pass while shorthanded, he couldn't get back to his feet before the Buffalo defense caught up and took away the puck.
A last second effort with Price out of the net still wasn't enough to force overtime, as Buffalo got control of the puck and cleared it out of the zone to secure the win.
This win will be remembered by home fans for a long time. The Sabres have been nothing but average at home this season until recently, putting together five wins at HSBC Arena since Jan. 6 when they defeated the Senators 4-2.
Tonight the Sabres head to Ottawa; and even with the Sens at the bottom of the conference, I expect to see an intense and heated game, especially with Pat Kaleta back in the lineup and the fourth line showing that they have some grit and can still score.