Not much has gone right for the Sabres. A season disappointment that’s included injuries to top stars Ryan Miller, Derek Roy, Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville hasn’t helped Lindy Ruff’s club. However, last night a couple of those now healthier parts helped the Sabres post a nice 2-1 overtime win over the hated Canadiens at HSBC Arena.
Not surprisingly when these two bitter rivals get together, there was plenty of chippiness with antagonist Patrick Kaleta infuriating former Islander James Wisniewski after boarding one of his teammates from behind. Wisniewski lost his cool and negated a Montreal power play with a retaliatory crosscheck on Kaleta’s teammate Nathan Gerbe. At the moment, Montreal was already leading 1-0 thanks to diminutive rookie David Desharnais’ second of the season on their first man-advantage. Wisniewski helped set up the goal along with another ex-Islander Roman Hamrlik to loud cheers from a strong Habs’ contingent. Whenever these teams get together, there always are Montreal fans who make the trip across the border to support their heroes. Something quite familiar to Buffalo whenever another top rival Toronto visits.
It makes for an incredible atmosphere. Even if I’ve never been to a Sabres game, just listening to the “Go Habs Go,” chants followed by “Let’s Go Buffalo” is enough to enjoy the action. Perhaps that’s why Versus wisely selected the heated Northeastern battle over a depleted Red Wing squad that fell to the Crosby-less Pens last night. For those who went, it must’ve been awesome. When the viewer can feel the environment through the television, it speaks to the nature of an intense rivalry similar to what we get closer to home whenever the locals do battle.
Carey Price was on making it tough for Buffalo to put one past him. The 23 year-old former No.1 pick who’s flourished since the club dealt Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis was on top of his game, making plenty of sparkling saves en route to a game high 37 in what amounted to a losing effort. It was still good enough to earn the Habs a point, pushing them one up on the idle Rangers for sixth in the East. One issue for Montreal was that of fallen teammates with Jacques Martin’s club losing Max Pacioretty for the remainder after a Wisniewski point shot struck him in the right side. While he was taken to the hospital, top line finisher Mike Cammalleri was already lost due to the dreaded upper body injury. They also lost Jeff Halpern as well. Down three, the Habs competed hard supported by Price’s strong goaltending.
It took the power play for the Sabres to finally draw even when rookie Tyler Ennis was able to put home a Thomas Vanek rebound for his 11th with Connolly netting the other helper. The first-year left wing hasn’t gotten much pop in a deep rookie class but deserves more attention. His playmaking and wherewithal to get dirty despite a smallish 5-9, 163 pound frame can’t be ignored. Ennis wasn’t done also helping set up Pominville’s OT winner which also came via a power play. He’s now up to 23 points (11-12-23) in 45 games after impressing with nine (3-6-9) in 10 last year. The 21 year-old former No.1 pick selected 26th overall in the ’08 Draft is definitely one to keep an eye on for Sabre fans, who must admire the edge he brings.
“It’s big, but we have got to have some consistency here,” explained the kid from Edmonton of getting two points while erasing a bad 5-3 loss to the Islanders victimized by John Tavares’ second hat trick of the season. “We’ve got to build off this.”
Ultimately, it was a loss of discipline from ex-Devil/Ranger Scott Gomez which proved to be the difference. Late in regulation, he lost his cool during a battle with Nathan Gerbe retaliating a slash with a punch to the face. While his second minor of the contest didn’t cost his team a point in regulation, it had to hurt watching the Sabres work some magic with Ennis handing for Vanek who wheeled to the front before making a sweet dish to a vacated Pominville for the decider 69 seconds into overtime.
“I’m not going to sit here and blame anyone,” Gomez lamented. “I know better than that. I know not to put myself in that position. I did and it cost us a chance at two points.”
“Gerbe did a great job getting the penalty to get that power play,” Ennis noted. “When you get a chance in overtime like that, you have to bury it. It was big for us for Pommer to do that.”
In his career high 22nd consecutive start, Miller was also solid turning aside 29 of 30 in notching his 18th win of the season. The Sabres also were down a player with the sizzling Drew Stafford lost after two shifts after injuring his groin. The former University of North Daktota product has come into his own scoring 15 goals, which ranks second on the club behind Vanek (17). He has 23 points in just 30 games thus far, having missed 15 games. Buffalo can ill afford to lose him.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Jason Pominville, Buf (OT winner at 69 seconds-9th of season)
2nd Star-Carey Price, Mtl (37 saves)
1st Star-Tyler Ennis, Buf (11th of season, assist)