MONTREAL – It was a movie plotline the Buffalo Sabres have seen all too often this season: stay close in a game and give yourself a chance to win. But just like the previous versions, they weren’t able to re-write the ending.
Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk scored 23 seconds apart late in the second period to break open a tie game, and the red-hot Montreal Canadiens went on the defeat the Sabres 3-2 at the Bell Centre on Saturday. The win was Montreal’s fifth in a row, and improved their record to 9-0-1 over the last 10 games. The Sabres have now lost two straight, and seven of their last nine.
The loss might’ve been the toughest one to swallow this season, as the Sabres outplayed one of the league’s top teams for most of the night. They even limited the Habs to just 19 shots on the night, including a measly four over the final 20 minutes. But the quiet locker room and sullen looks on many players told a different story.
“It’s tough to find silver linings in losses,” said interim coach Ted Nolan. “The mistakes are still there, just not as frequent as they were. There are some positive things; we’re getting better. Not in the leaps and bounds we’d like to get, but we’re getting there.”
After a relatively uneventful first period where the two teams combined for just nine shots on goal, Montreal woke up the unusually-quiet crowd 19 seconds into the second. Brandon Prust forced a Matt D’Agostini turnover at the Buffalo blueline, raced to the slot to take a pass from Ryan White, and buried a glove-side wrister past Jhonas Enroth.
Instead of letting Prust’s quick tally get them down like they have many times this season, the Sabres responded. They created offense, delivered big hits and started taking the play to Montreal. They were rewarded for their hard work at 8:36 when Tyler Ennis one-timed a Christian Ehrhoff pass at the bottom of the faceoff circle for his sixth of the season. It was also the second time this season Ennis has scored in consecutive games.
But as the period neared an end with the Sabres holding a 12-9 edge in shots, Montreal took the wind out of Buffalo’s sails.
Off a textbook Canadiens cycle down low, Prust set up shop behind the Sabres net before feeding a streaking Plekanec in front for the one-timer at 17:44. Only 23 seconds later, Galchenyuk got open to Enroth’s left and converted the cross ice pass from Markov to send the crowd into a frenzy.
Despite some of the positive shown by the team in one of the league’s toughest road buildings, Ennis said the team’s inability to put together a full game is what cost them again.
“I think we outplayed them for 55 minutes. For those five minutes you let down and turn a couple over, a first place team is going to put it in the back of the net.
“We talk about playing a 60-minute game, and we were close. But when you let your foot off the gas like we did, Montreal is going to score some goals.”
Captain Steve Ott was one of the players that lingered longest in the room afterwards, and the disappointment could be heard in his voice.
“That last three minutes (of the second period) was tough because I thought we played a solid road game at the time. We were doing a lot of the things right that we need to do to make it a good road game. We cracked first in that situation, and it was tough coming into the third. Girgensons had a big goal to get is back in it, but obviously we fell short.”
The goal Ott spoke of by Girgensons in the third period was one that many Sabres fans have been waiting to see. In true power forward style, Girgensons drove the Montreal net, bullied his way past reigning Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban and tucked the puck past goaltender Carey Price. It was the 19-year-old’s second goal of the season, and first since opening night in Detroit on October 2.