I’m not going to lie. This first paragraph of this post was deleted a short time ago. It was originally set to be one my most scathing Buffalo Sabres rants in recent memory, but then (who else) Thomas Vanek went and saved his team from a deserved tongue lashing.
Down two goals with less than 10 minutes to play against a team exhausted from a battle the night before against Boston, all while playing a backup goaltender, Vanek scored two goals, including the game-tying tally with just 1.9 seconds in regulation as Buffalo eventually defeated the Montreal Canadiens in a shootout, 5-4.
In a matter of seconds, Buffalo went from leaving their building brokenhearted and pointless to earning a desperately needed pair.
As if Vanek’s two goals in regulation weren’t impressive enough, he opened the shootout by fooling netminder Peter Budaj on the glove side to get Buffalo rolling. Jason Pominville also scored while Ryan Miller turned away the last two Montreal chances, including a stop on Brian Gionta to preserve the improbable win.
“We’ve been finding ways to lose, and we found a way to win.” Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff told reporters after the game.
After a pair of sloppy periods had their fans booing as Buffalo trailed after 40 minutes, 3-2. Montreal appeared to have the game locked up when Tomas Plekanoc took advantage of a horrible Jochen Hecht turnovers and scored just 45 seconds into the third as the Canadiens opened a two goal lead.
At that point Buffalo had gone scoreless in four previous power plays, pushing their streak to 17 over four games.
That futile streak finally changed when Sabres forward Steve Ott, who scored the team’s first goal, drew a double minor penalty on Ryan White for roughing after White couldn’t resist throwing a punch at Ott’s antagonizing head.
With the man advantage, Vanek plucked a rebound near Budaj off a Tyler Ennis (one goal, two assists) play and buried a backhand high to cut the deficit to 3-2 at with just 12 minutes to play.
It was a turning point of the game for sure, brought upon by Ott’s ability to bring out the nastiest in his opponents while maintaining his own cool.
“I was trying to be physical, he thought I wanted to engage or something like that,” Ott said in the locker room to reporters. “I’ll take the powerplay”
From there Buffalo remained in control but couldn’t generate a goal, and things looked particularly bleak when they lost a faceoff with 21 seconds left, but a loose puck and major scrum in front of the Montreal net culminated with Vanek jamming the puck between Budaj’s legs into the net with 1.9 seconds left, sending what crowd remained into a frenzy.
“When he’s (Vanek) riding a hot stretch, sometimes he’s unstoppable.” Ruff said to reporters.
Neither team generated quality chances in overtime, but Buffalo had the better goaltender in the shootout— and it showed.
Marcus Foligno notched two assists for Buffalo while Ott added an assist to go with his goal.
We’ll have plenty of reaction tomorrow morning on this wild contest. While I’m sure Lindy Ruff is sleeping better tonight with two points in his pocket, the defensive nightmares he’s been dealing with aren’t going away.