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Bummed out at the break Ryder's late goal helps Habs spoil Buffalo's rally from three-goal deficit

Perhaps, if they think about it, Daniel Briere, Brian Campbell and Ryan Miller can bring back some nice swag from the All-Star Game. Maybe stuff signed by the Eastern Conference squad, a jersey, some sticks, T-shirts -- something to hang in the rec room or home office.

Those could be the happiest thoughts the Buffalo Sabres had Saturday night when thinking about the All-Star break.

The Sabres went into their five-day respite with a tough defeat. They rallied from a three-goal deficit to tie the game in the third period, but Michael Ryder scored with 2:53 left to give the Montreal Canadiens a 4-3 victory in the Bell Centre.

"It's a very tough loss," Sabres co-captain Chris Drury said. "We battled hard to get back to 3-3, and a late goal . . that's tough to take into the break."

The Sabres had a chance to win their third game in a row, which would have felt wonderful given January's fickleness. They have won only four of their last 10 games.

"We're disappointed," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who will guide the East All-Stars on Wednesday in Dallas. "You want to win your last one before going into the break. We didn't. But I've got to take some of the battle out of the game and realize that, in a tough situation, it was a pretty hard-fought game for our team."

The Canadiens, with just five wins in their previous 14 games, had the crowd of 21,273 frothing with a 3-0 lead on Sabres goalie Martin Biron minutes into the second period.

Then the NHL's best road team got Eastern Conference backup goalie Cristobal Huet scrambling like a toddler hopped up on NoDoz. Briere and forward Derek Roy scored in the second period, and Briere added another in the third.

Buffalo was poised for overtime after killing a Nathan Paetsch hooking penalty with 3:41 to play.

But on the deciding rush, winger Alexander Perezhogin skated wide around Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen and sent a long pass to Ryder at the right post for the winner.

"I didn't think Teppo played the rush very well, and [Dmitri Kalinin] didn't read it very well, either, and we gave up a pretty good opportunity," Ruff said.

The Canadiens have been difficult opponents for Buffalo. The Sabres are 3-2-1 against their Northeast Division foes, but only one of those wins was in regulation. The Habs have outscored the Sabres, 18-16, on the season.

Huet finished with 24 saves, while Biron stopped 27 shots.

Montreal looked like it might rout Buffalo behind a power-play unit that ranked first in the East.

Guillaume Latendresse exploited Biron with an uncontested tap-in eight minutes into the game. Montreal center Thomas Plekanec fired the puck along the glass into Buffalo's zone. Biron skated behind the cage in anticipation, and the puck rolled along the sill until it turned the corner. That's where it caromed out into the crease for Latendresse to tally his 10th goal.

Montreal rang up another with 29.2 seconds left. Saku Koivu cleaned up an Alexei Kovalev rebound in the crease for his 16th goal.

The Canadiens inflated their lead 4:49 into the second period. Francis Bouillon charged in on a loose puck high in the slot and drilled his second goal of the season.

Some Keystone Cops activity ensured the Sabres didn't stay silent. Latendresse slid into defenseman Mike Komisarek near the slot and created enough confusion for Briere to creep to the backdoor, where Jason Pominville spotted him from the right circle. Huet seemed to give up on the play, and Briere easily scored 9:04 into the second.

The goal broke a six-game slump for Briere, who still leads the Sabres in scoring despite a stretch of two goals in 20 games heading into Saturday.

Buffalo's third and final power play didn't get credit for a goal but conjured mayhem that led to one with 3:33 to go in the second. Huet flailed around until Roy converted a Maxim Afinogenov rebound for his third goal in four games.

Briere tied the game 8:37 into the third period but not before a video review determined his stick and not his skate deflected in Brian Campbell's pass.

"We showed a lot of character by not quitting and playing hard, trying to find a way to get back into the game," Briere said. "We paid the price for not [converting chances] late in the game. We probably should have been up by a goal or two, and [Ryder's goal] would have [tied the game]. They made us pay for our poor start."

The Sabres recalled forward Clarke MacArthur from Rochester before the game because winger Ales Kotalik was a game-time decision. Ruff said Kotalik "bruised his buttocks" in Friday night's 4-3 shootout victory over Vancouver.

Kotalik and MacArthur played. Andrew Peters was a healthy scratch.


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