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Michael Ryder came to play on this night, his goal, five shots and two posts only the tip of the iceberg in what was yet another in a continuing series of top rate games.  Unfortunately, much of the rest of the Canadiens managed only about five minutes of really strong hockey and therefore failed to clinch their playoff spot as they lost to the Sabres by a score of 2-1.


It was more like watching the Canadiens from last year on this night, as only the usual suspects showed up to deliver adequate performances.  Captain Koivu was strong as was Bulis, who’s found his stride since coming back from a knee injury.  Markov was a stalwart on defence logging over 28 minutes in ice time and naturally the Habs goaltending, Garon was given the call, was typically steady.


For most of the rest, a little soul searching might be in the cards during the trip back to Montreal and overnight.  Certainly a couple might find themselves looking at the game against the Senators from the press box, rather than at ice level.  Dagenais appeared twice in the third and managed barely over ten minutes in ice time and he’ll be the first looking over his shoulder.  Perreault might want to think things through as well, despite starting the game strongly and delivering a solid hit in the first minute.


The first was a fairly even period as both teams were cautious and barely displayed any offensive skills whatsoever.  The only serious challenges to the goaltenders were defensive mistakes, or in the case of Buffalo goalie Biron, a hard charging Ryder.


The most alarming point out of the period for the Canadiens had nothing to do with scoring chances and everything to do with health as Sheldon Souray took a hit awkwardly and, after playing in one more shift, sat out the rest of the encounter.  It’s a troubling piece of information heading towards the playoffs, especially since he was just starting to get his timing back after missing significant time already with a knee injury.


On the ice, Bartovic out-skated Quintal and sent himself on a partial break and later on it was Briere going in alone, albeit significantly hassled by Markov.  It was left to Garon to close the door finally on those two plays, and to allow the Habs to move to the second with the score tied. 


The Sabres had plenty of chances to score, particularly early during a Montreal penalty.  Dumont ended up making the save on his own shot as he partially fanned and his stick, travelling faster than the puck, was pulled back thereby drawing the puck from its trajectory into the net.  Seconds later Satan swished the air as he barely missed on an open one-timer.


Buffalo finally did manage to get on the scoreboard when Komisarek, who played a steady game all things considered, made one of his few errors when he tried to go for the big hit.  His man (Dumont), who he’d left completely open, received the pass and fired home the opening salvo.


A mere 3:40 later, Bouillon couldn’t handle Mair in front of the net, and a turn-and-shoot resulted in the Sabres taking a two goal lead.  On this night, it was more than enough when the Habs were creating almost nothing in the way of offence.


The third was much the same for the first three quarters as the Canadiens were sloppy and unfocussed.  In an effort to shake up his crew and generate more in the offensive zone, Julien juggled the lines, promoting Bulis and Perreault into the top two and dropping Dagenais and Kovalev down in the pecking order.


It was only in the last five minutes that the team from the Habs recent successful streak finally decided to show, and during that time they dominated handily creating chance after chance and bringing Biron to the fore.  It all started when an innocent enough looking play resulted in a goal.


As the Sabres were in the process of leaving their zone, there was a collision and the puck was sent flying, only to strike a Sabre doubling back into the zone – thereby allowing a seemingly offside play to be considered onside.  Ribeiro picked up the loose puck and dropped it for a streaking Ryder, and his backhand upstairs beat Biron and gave the Canadiens life.


In the end, though, the five minutes of work was too little too late in a game they probably could have won easily with a concerted effort.  Now they must pick up the pieces and get ready for a game against one of the best teams in the game in the Senators. 


Perhaps in that one Ryder won’t feel so alone.