The Montreal Canadiens lost a goaltender’s duel on Saturday night as the Buffalo Sabres edged the Habs 3-2 in an exciting overtime tilt that featured some superlative goaltending on both sides, particularly late in the game.
The Canadiens hosted the Sabres in a matchup that was the back end of consecutive games for both teams. The previous evening, the Habs and Al Montoya defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-1 in a game where they held the Devils to less than ten shots until late in the second period. The Sabres worked a little later Friday night with Kyle Okposo scoring over four minutes into overtime as they defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-2. Carey Price got the start for Montreal while Robin Lehner was in goal for Buffalo.
In the opening frame, the teams exchanged some scoring chances, with Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty having the best opportunity for the home team on a fine rush and feed from Alexander Radulov. A smooth pad save by Lehner turned away Pacioretty’s first shot and Max, with a fairly open net, directed the rebound off the post. The Sabres also had some quality chances including Okposo’s laser from the right hash mark that Price stopped with a spectacular glove save. Towards the end of the period, Evander Kane – who was a force all night – made a nice feed to Zach Bogosian. Radulov diligently back checked on the play and prevented an open shot on Price but was assessed a questionable hooking call on the play. The Canadiens played the last eleven seconds of the period and would start the second frame shorthanded. At the end of period one, no score.
In period two, the Buffalo power play began with a point blank chance by Sam Reinhart that was confidently turned away by Price. A point shot was blocked by Jeff Petry who hobbled off the ice ominously but did return later in the period. There were no other quality chances on the Sabre power play.
The Canadiens seized the momentum after the penalty kill, with Lehner making quality saves on chances by Sven Andrighetto and Andrew Shaw. Later, Paul Byron rushed over the Buffalo blueline and directed a slap pass on goal that Lehner was forced to block with his left pad. Lehner had no chance to cover the rebound and the Sabre defenders did not pick up Artturi Lehkonen who opened the scoring with a wrist shot to the upper part of the net on the play.
The Sabres immediately responded with pressure in the Montreal end, particularly the Evander Kane line. Price handled Kane’s initial opportunity to hold the lead. On the ensuing face-off, the Habs remained bottled up in their own zone. Zemgus Girgensons and Kane out-muscled the Montreal defenders for the puck and Kane made a smooth goalmouth pass to former Hab captain Brian Gionta who tied the game at 1-1. Gionta had a wide open net on the play as the Canadiens skaters totally failed to pick him up. This is the type of breakdown that has been occurring recently in the Habs own zone, which is not the fault of their goaltender.
A few shifts later, Jack Eichel fed Marcus Foligno with a breakout pass who gained the blueline and dished to Sam Reinhart who absolutely undressed Jeff Petry on a very weak defensive effort by # 26. Petry was bailed out by Price on this one as he turned away Reinhart’s open shot.
A short time later, the Canadiens made it 2-1 on a tip-in by Philip Danault. Danault started the rush and head manned the puck to Pacioretty. The Habs captain gained the blueline and made a nice feed to Jeff Petry at the point. Petry’s slapshot was skillfully redirected past Lehner by Danault.
Around the eleven minute mark, Lehner robbed Torrey Mitchell with a right pad save. Later in the period, Lehner would also stone Andrew Shaw on a golden opportunity that caused Shaw to snap his stick in frustration. The teams both had power plays later in the period. The Sabres had two power play goals against Detroit on Friday and the Habs counted three against the Devils the same night but neither team made their power plays count in the second period.
For the first five minutes of the third period, Buffalo had Montreal on their heels and Price made a couple key saves to preserve the one-goal lead. After the five-minute mark, the play evened out and Tomas Plekanec very nearly extended the Canadiens lead after a fine pass from Lehkonen who was dangerous all night. The teams exchanged some chances but the Habs seemed to be gaining control of the game until Cody Franson scored off a clean face-off win by Ryan O’Reilly in the Montreal zone with about eight minutes left. Franson scored on a snap shot from the point that Price was partially screened on.
Buffalo’s momentum did not stop with Franson’s goal as they took control for several minutes. It was only some spectacular saves by Carey Price over the next few minutes that kept the game deadlocked. For about five minutes up until the last minute of regulation, the teams played evenly and cautiously. However, in the last minute, the Canadiens skaters broke down completely in their own end, allowing a breakaway by Matt Moulson and an open opportunity for Rasmus Ristolainen from the point in on Carey Price. Two incredible game-saving stops in the last minute by Price – which earned him an ovation from an appreciative Bell Centre crowd – forced overtime.
For the first minute and a half of overtime, the Canadiens had possession of the puck and pressured the Sabres in their own end. The Hab pressure culminated with a glorious scoring chance by Alex Galchenyuk who fired a shot into a seemingly open net, only to be denied by Lehner’s lunging game-saving glove save. On the ensuing face-off, Varna, Ontario’s O’Reilly won the draw and ultimately led the rush the other way. The Habs defenders backed in and O’Reilly dished the puck to Bogosian who wired a shot off the post and in for his first goal since March 18, 2016.
While there has been much discussion about Price’s mini-slump, there was no evidence of it in this game. Price bailed out his team on a number of occasions on this night.
HW Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star: Carey Price – A fine performance by the Canadiens superstar netminder. The game would not have gone to overtime if not for some excellent work by Price in the third period.
Stats: 35 saves on 38 shots, 3.00 GAA, .921 SV%
2nd Star: Artturi Lehkonen – Lehkonen opened the scoring and was generating scoring chances for himself or others all night.
Stats: 1 G; +/-: 0; TOI: 11:56; SOG: 4
3rd Star: Phillip Danault – Danault scored for the Canadiens on a fine re-direction of Petry’s point shot. Danault started and finished the rush that led to the second goal.
Stats: 1 G; +/-: +1; TOI: 17:33; SOG: 1
Honourable Mention: Alexander Radulov – Radulov was kept off the scoresheet but was hard on the forecheck all night and generated scoring opportunities.
Stats: 0 G, 0 A; +/-: +0; TOI: 19:55; SOG: 1