The Buffalo Sabres returned from the Thanksgiving break with a little bit of something to prove. The team is one of only four clubs in the NHL that has taken at least a point in the standings for each game in which they opened the standings.
Looking to extend the win streak to eight games for the first time in 13 years, Buffalo indeed drew first blood when Casey Mittelstadt banged home a rebound after a redirect from Conor Sheary got through Montreal goaltender Antti Niemi and glanced off of the post.
It was what has become a characteristically slow start for Buffalo, who outshot Montreal 12-8 on the scoresheet, but also blocked eight shots from the Canadiens. The Sabres’ focus on increasing shot attempts has been a hallmark during the club’s winning streak, and despite facing the Montreal backup, the team would need to continue to put pucks on net if they hoped to improve their place in the standings.
Montreal came out strong in the second, putting five quick shots on Carter Hutton. The stalwart Sabres netminder was up to the task for each, and a solid shift by the team’s top line gave Buffalo a spark.
Buffalo’s best pressure of the second came on a power play at 5:18 of the first. A close call saw Niemi forced to sprawl to keep the puck out of the net. As the penalty time expired, forward Tage Thompson had a fantastic chance, but was unable to put the puck in the net. The score remained 1-0 in Buffalo’s favor.
The Sabres would get another chance with the skater advantage at 11:05, when Sabres captain Jack Eichel drove to the net and was hacked down by Dave Schlemko. Buffalo generated only one shot on the power play and failed to capitalize for the third time in the game.
With 6:14 left in the second, Montreal appeared to have scored on a scrum in front of the net, but officials quickly reversed the call on the ice, claiming that the puck was kicked in.
A slow middle frame came back to but Buffalo, and with less than two minutes remaining, the Canadiens tied the game at one after entering the zone 2-on-1 and Brendan Gallagher beat Hutton short side. The Sabres fought off one minute of power play time to keep the tie heading into the third. Montreal outshot Buffalo 11-7 in the second - even with two power plays, the Sabres could not generate quality chances.
Buffalo continued to let Montreal to climb back into the game, and when Sabres forward Jason Pominville headed to the box at 8:13, it took Montreal only five seconds of power play time to take the 2-1. Andrew Shaw broke the tie on assists from Schlemko and Phillip Danault, his second of the night.
As they’ve proven time and time again, the Buffalo Sabres have no quit. With the clock ticking down, Jeff Skinner cashed in goal number 16 of the year. Sam Reinhart and Zach Bogosian earned the assists on the tying goal.
The teams traded chances in the final minute; Hutton made a huge save on a surprising puck that came back out in front on a shoot in, and Eichel clanked a solid shot off of the post. Time expired with the teams deadlocked.
With 3:28 left in overtime, Rasmus Ristolainen drew a penalty and Buffalo called a timeout to give the ineffective power play a new strategy. The extra time paid dividends, and after a scrum in front of Niemi, Skinner did what Eichel and company could not, burying the loose puck. The Sabres finally broke through a snakebitten streak with Skinner’s power play goal. It came on the team’s 40th shot of the night, capping off 21 shots in the final 22 minutes of the game.
The 3-2 overtime win keeps the team firmly in the early playoff race, leading the Eastern Conference. While close games have defined the season thus far, coming out on the winning side is a habit that Buffalo fans can certainly embrace.
The team won’t be able to rest on the win, as they will be back at it 24 hours after securing their 32nd point of the season. The Sabres will travel to Detroit to face a grounded Red Wings team who has drawn to .500 on the season with 22 games played.
Final: Buffalo 3, Montreal 2
Shots: Buffalo: 40 | Montreal: 33
Sabres Goals: Casey Mittelstadt (1), Jeff Skinner (2)
Canadiens Goals: Brendan Gallagher (1), Andrew Shaw (1)
1.) Jeff Skinner (2 goals, 6 shots on goal)
2.) Sam Reinhart (1 assist, 3 shots on goal)
3.) Carter Hutton (31 saves)