Give the Buffalo Sabres some credit.
All, but written off for a playoff spot a four days ago, the Sabres came back from a one goal deficit in the third period to defeat the Montreal Canadiens, 4-3, in a marathon shoot-out for their third straight win, climbing within four points of the last playoff spot with seven games remaining.
After taking a 2-0 first period lead, the Sabres took some ill-advise penalties in the second period and watched Montreal score three straight goals to skate off the ice up by a goal at the end of two.
Playing their second of back-to-back games on hostile ice against a Canadien team that needed a win as much as the Sabres, only the most die-hard fans of the blue-and-gold could have held out hope for a comeback.
No one must have told the Sabre players that their season was done, because they came out in the third and took control of the game, controlling the puck in the Montreal zone, and not giving the Canadiens any time or ice to mount their swirling attack.
Just inside of four minutes gone, the much maligned, Jason Pominville, won a battle for the puck in the Montreal corner. He passed to Tim Connolly at the top of the face-off circle. Connolly pivoted to create some space.
When the Montreal defenseman came to him, Connolly slid the puck back to Pominville who had an open path to the net.
Montreal goalie Carey Price managed to get his stick on Pominville's attempt to stuff the puck between his legs, but the rebound deflected right onto Clarke MacArthur's stick who fired it into the net for the tying goal.
The Sabres then tightened their chinstraps and proceeded to dominate the rest of the third period, out-shooting the Canadiens 16-7.
There was one dicey moment when Jochen Hecht failed to clear the puck after a Montreal flurry in the Buffalo end.
A few seconds later, the puck came to Hecht again. With no Montreal player near him and ample opportunity to skate out of the zone, Hecht inexplicably fired the puck over the glass, incurring a delay of game penalty.
Hecht had already taken one stupid penalty in the second period for cross-checking in the offensive zone leading to a five-on-three power play and Montreal goal.
Hecht has been one of the Sabres' worst underachievers this season and one had to fear for his safety back in Buffalo had Montreal scored the winning goal as a result of his gaffe, but the Sabre penalty kill held and once the penalty expired, Buffalo resumed their pressure on the Hab's goal.
As the period wound down, the Sabres pressed even harder, trying to win in regulation and deny Montreal the point they would gain for a tie.
The horn sounded with the score still knotted at 3-3.
The ice continued to tilt in Buffalo's favor in over-time, with the Sabres mounting several well-organized attacks and controlling the puck.
Their best chance came with a minute gone when Connolly led a three-on-two and fired his shot over the Montreal net.
But neither team could score and the game headed to a shoot-out.
Thoughts once again turned to the departed Sabre Ales Kotalik, who for all his faults was an odds-on favorite to score. Since Kotalik was traded, the Sabres have not scored a shoot-out goal.
Their dry-spell continued as Connolly, Stafford, and Pominville all failed to beat Price.
After Pominville's miss, the incredible pressure on Ryan Miller intensified as a Canadien goal wins the game and virtually ends the Sabres chances for the post-season. Miller was more than up to the task, stoning Kovalev, Tanguay and Koivu.
Back and forth it went, with Price stopping Derek Roy and Miller turning aside Andrei Markov. Vanek missed, but once again Miller stood tall, denying Tomas Plekanec.
For his sixth shooter, Lindy Ruff sent out defenseman Toni Lydman, who had scored all of three goals this season.
When Lydman skated in and snapped a wrister through Price's five-hole, the only sound was the jaws of the more then 21,000 Canadiens' fans in attendance dropping.
Seconds later, Montreal's Max Lapierre missed the net and the Sabres had won a hard earned victory.
As the Sabres poured over the boards to congratulate their goalie, Miller could be seen doing a very brief dance accompanied by an emphatic fist pump…and so the Sabres live to fight another day.
The Sabres have to pass both Montreal and Florida to sneak into the play-offs.
But stranger things have happened.
At least it's fun to watch the Sabres play with desperation. If only they'd turned it on a few more times earlier in the season.
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