Despite having a tough game, Rasmus Ristolainen played the hero Thursday night as the Buffalo Sabres topped the Montreal Canadiens 6-5 in an action-packed, heart-wrenching game. This game had it all: power plays, penalty kills, leads, deficits, big saves and more.
Early on, Buffalo found themselves on the penalty kill, as Jeff Skinner was called for hooking just 1:03 into the game. They quickly went down two men as Zemgus Girgensons joined him in the box on a high-sticking call 46 seconds later.
After successfully killing both penalties, the Sabres opened the scoring just over six minutes in. Evan Rodrigues and Vladimir Sobotka found themselves on a 2-on-1 against Montreal’s Victor Mete; Rodrigues, coming up the right side of the ice, fed the puck to Sobotka, who took a quick shot to capitalize on the opportunity.
Buffalo held their first lead of the night for just over three minutes before Jonathan Drouin evened the score.
Five minutes later, the Sabres regained the lead on Sobotka’s second of the night. Once again, the goal was created in part due to a nice play by Rodrigues, who got the puck to the net before Sobotka put it in the five-hole. Montreal challenged for goaltender interference, as it appeared Nathan Beaulieu’s stick may have hit Carey Price’ foot, but it was ruled a good goal.
That lead lasted a measly 10 seconds before the Sabres gave up another goal. Defensive miscues and Linus Ullmark failing to hold tight to the post allowed Matthew Peca to score his first goal of the season, tying the game at two.
The scoring continued. Just 1:02 after Peca’s goal, Buffalo was back up, thanks to Conor Sheary’s sixth of the season. Sheary now has goals in three straight games.
But once again, the Sabres failed to maintain a lead. Some 34 seconds after Sheary’s goal, Andrew Shaw took advantage of a chance to tie the game at three, and that’s how the teams skated off after twenty minutes of play.
It was much of the same to start the second period. Jeff Skinner tallied his 10th goal of the season to regain the lead for Buffalo - a lead they’d hold for 4:43 before Tomas Tatar tied it.
Former Sabres forward Nicolas Deslauriers gave Montreal their first lead of the game with under two minutes to play in the second period, beating Ullmark for his first of the season on a shorthanded tally.
After allowing five goals in two periods - at least a few of which were his fault - Linus Ullmark was pulled in favor of Carton Hutton to start the third.
The Sabres wasted no time tying the game in the third period. Jack Eichel won a face-off in the zone, stepped around a fallen Montreal Canadiens player and got it to Skinner right in front of the net to make it a 5-5 game.
Shortly after tying it, the Sabres once again found themselves facing a two-man deficit as first Jake McCabe, then Rasmus Ristolainen, went to the penalty box. Once again, Buffalo successfully killed both penalties (or is it just that Montreal failed to capitalize? The Habs, after all, came into Thursday’s game with a 15.3% power play, 25th in the league.)
Fueled by the goaltending change, the Sabres powered through the rest of the third period and earned a point after pushing the game to overtime.
Buffalo then earned the extra point - and the win - when Rasmus Ristolainen scored his second goal of the season 1:38 into overtime. After a giveaway and a scoring chance at one end by Montreal, the puck came loose after missing the net. Ristolainen picked it up and shot up the ice with only one Habs player near him; he shot a rocket from the face-off circle to the right of the net to snipe the game-winner.
The Sabres went 0-for-3 on the power play and had five successful penalty kills in Thursday night’s win. They gave up just five shots in the third period and held Montreal without a shot in the overtime period.
Ristolainen led all players from both teams with 26:25 ice time and also had four hits - including the smasher on Shaw in the third. Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rodrigues each registered a pair of assists. Skinner and Sobotka each had two goals.
That being said, there’s still some room for improvement after Thursday night’s win. Marco Scandella and Ristolainen both struggled at times during the game, with Scandella registering four giveaways. Nathan Bealieu played a part in Montreal’s first goal and then nearly cost the Sabres their second goal on goaltender interference. Ullmark let in some goals that he shouldn’t have, and the Sabres took some careless penalties that put them down by two men when they were trying to maintain a lead.
The Sabres face some tough opponents ahead, starting with the Vancouver Canucks at home on Saturday. The Canucks are second in the Western Conference and beat the Boston Bruins 8-5 Thursday night, so there’s definitely some potential for Saturday’s game to be strong on the offense.