Four new forward lines produced plenty of scoring chances but didn’t ultimately add up to any more offense Tuesday night for the Buffalo Sabres.
When the Sabres actually did score what looked like a go-ahead goal, a dubious call from the officials wiped it out. So then they had to go to a shootout and even go some more once they got there. Through 10 rounds in all.
But ultimately, it was all finally worth it. Zemgus Girgensons’ deke produced the decisive goal for a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators in First Niagara Center that snapped the Sabres’ three-game skid.
The Sabres took the shootout, 4-3, with Girgensons’ neat backhand past Robin Lehner in the 10th round providing the winner. Ryan Miller made seven saves, including the clincher off Erik Condra.
The 19-year-old Girgensons also scored Buffalo’s only goal in regulation, his third of the year and second in two games. He tallied on his first career shootout attempt.
“I had plenty of time to decide what I was going to do,” Girgensons joked after the second-longest shootout in Sabres’ history.
The Sabres are just 7-22-2 this season — but are 4-0 in shootouts, with Miller earning all of the decisions. They have split two games with Ottawa this year as Miller has stopped 80 of 82 shot through regulations and overtime. The teams meet again Thursday night in Canadian Tire Centre.
“If this is going to be my opportunity to win a game or any number of games, this might be my best chance sometimes,” Miller said of shootouts. “So I’ve got to take it and get these guys some confidence.”
The Sabres played with plenty of confidence in this one as each team collected 36 shots on goal. The total tied Buffalo’s season high and the Sabres’ 18 shots in the second period were their most all year.
“The chemistry through the lineup was a little bit different,” said captain Steve Ott. “It wasn’t so much heavy on a first line or second line. More or less, we had four lines out there we continued to roll throughout the night.”
And they kept pushing even after Jamie McBain’s apparent go-ahead goal was wiped out with 4:30 left in the second period. With a delayed penalty coming up to Ottawa’s Jason Spezza after Buffalo’s Luke Adam was clipped by a high stick, McBain moved down low and drove the puck through Lehner.
It dangled in the goal crease uncovered and Spezza inadvertently appeared to tap it past Lehner into the open net to give Buffalo its first lead of the night.
The Sabres celebrated but officials huddled, eventually moving to their circle at center ice before ruling no goal. The NHL Situation Room in Toronto, which was consulted but ultimately could not review the play, said Spezza’s touch of the puck constituted the “possession/control” needed to get a whistle on the delayed penalty as per Rule 15.1.
The possession/control part was clearly the issue, however, as mere touching of the puck is not supposed to bring a whistle. The announced crowd of 18,594, actually held down to about 12,000 by the weather, was understandably irate.
“It was pretty devastating when they called back the goal and you could tell the guys were a little deflated,” said interim coach Ted Nolan. “So to get a win like that is an emotional win for us.”
“It’s good that we had to kind of pull our socks up and go to work and just get it done,” Miller said. “Hopefully guys can remember that something didn’t really go our way and we were able to win still and that can be a positive.
“There’s too many times this year when negative things happen and we’re like, ‘Here we go again.’ Tonight was one where something big could have happened for us, we could have gotten a lead and it didn’t happen. We had to find a way so it was good.”
Ottawa opened the scoring at 6:25 of the first period as Milan Michalek netted a perfect pass from former Canisius College star Cory Conacher on the back end of a 2-on-1 break.
Girgensons got things even at 13:25 of the second, outworking Ottawa defenseman Joe Corvo for a rebound and batting the puck out of mid-air between Lehner’s legs.