The Canadiens are making believers out of everyone. In the return match of a home-and-home series against the Buffalo Sabres, Montreal managed to eke out yet another 3-2 victory. Instead of crawling from behind, though, this time the Habs took a lead and held on to the bitter end to secure the victory.
It certainly started with a bang for the Canadiens as Alex Kovalev scored early in the game to send the home side up by a goal. Collecting the puck on the side boards near the blueline, the Habs star whipped a shot at the net and it somehow tricked through the legs of Mathieu Biron.
The rest of the period was almost a showcase for the talents of Chris Higgins, he who was given the second line position in favour of Pierre Dagenais, demoted to the fourth line. While showing sublime skill at both ends of the rink, Higgins entertained fans with spectacular play both on and off the puck. After blocking a shot, he went in alone on Biron and only a blocker save prevented the Habs rookie from potting his third of the season.
Also on display on this evening were the Canadiens defenders jumping into the attack far more. The message has been received, and particularly by Andrei Markov who, more and more, is taking things into his own hands and is creating plenty of chances as a result.
The only sour point in the first was the finish. While on the power play with less than a minute remaining in the period, JP Dumont redirected home a precise pass from Brian Campbell to give the visitors a less-than-deserved tie heading into intermission.
Close to the mid-point in the second saw the only goal for the frame as Montreal capitalized on a power play chance. After Saku Koivu gained the zone, he tossed the puck back to Markov at the point. After taking a couple of steps, this latter fired a pin-point pass to Alex Kovalev whose wrist-shot beat Biron to give the Habs the lead.
The home side deserved another when Higgins again blocked a shot at the point and went in alone on the Buffalo goalie. Biron came up with a stellar save as Higgins’ shot was gloved to snuff out the attack.
Koivu was, on this night, wearing a microphone for RDS, and his reaction to the Habs third goal early in the final frame pretty much said it all – “Now that’s a goal!”. After a smart zone entry from Markov, the defender sent a precise backhanded pass to Koivu. The captain then sent a cross-ice pass to Richard Zednik at the far side of the net, and he easily fired into the open side. The entire play was done at high tempo and was surely the play of the night.
The Sabres have a plucky squad, however, and weren’t ready to roll over and die. Late in the period, after Mike Komisarek had applied the hit of the night on Paul Gaustad at the blueline, the visitors struck back.
Picking up the puck in the neutral zone, Maxim Afinogenov, easily the best Sabre on the night, attacked the Montreal zone with customary vigour. His pass to Tim Connolly was directed at the net and Gaustad was on the spot to deflect it past Jose Theodore.
The final moments of the game were watched from the edge of fans’ seats as the Sabres pressed for the equalizer, and a last second pile up in front of Theodore saw the Sabres go up a man to end the game. Typically, though, it was Steve Begin blocking a shot at the very end which sewed up the win and send the Canadiens to their 11th victory early in this new season.
Next up for Montreal are the Lightning who visit the Bell Centre on Tuesday night. Tampa Bay will surely be looking to reverse their fortunes as they were beaten by the Maple Leafs tonight by a score of 5-3.