In a season where very little has gone right, the Buffalo Sabres were handed a massive stroke of good fortune Saturday night. And even that wasn’t enough to help them get a win.
An “own-goal” by Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos that will live in blooper reel infamy gave Buffalo a third-period lead but Stamkos got the ultimate revenge with an overtime winner that allowed the Lightning to escape First Niagara Center with a 4-3 win over the Sabres.
A sellout crowd of 19,070 was lured into the building mostly by the pregame ceremonies to induct Dominik Hasek into the Sabres Hall of Fame. The fans undoubtedly walked out chattering about the bizarre goal credited to Buffalo winger Cory Conacher at 8:14 of the third period.
Conacher was going to the penalty box for hooking, so the Lightning pulled goaltender Ben Bishop and Stamkos had the puck along the left boards. His cross-ice pass skipped past defenseman Mike Kostka and slithered all the way down the ice, the crowd’s crescendo growing as it gently went into the unguarded goal to snap a 2-2 tie and put Buffalo in the lead.
“We were on a perfect angle on the bench,” said Sabres coach Ted Nolan. “As soon as we saw the bank, almost 98 percent of the bench thought it was going to go in. It was a good break for us.”
Conacher was frustrated he was getting nailed for the penalty and initially exhaled that the puck had simply been cleared out of the zone.
“I didn’t even look until I saw the angle it took off the boards and that their ‘D’ didn’t have enough energy to catch up to it,” Conacher said. “It was pretty much in the middle of the net.”
The play was reminiscent of the bank shot South Buffalo native Patrick Kane used to accidentally score on his Chicago Blackhawks Jan. 12 against Edmonton. The Sabres also got a weird own-goal in 2004 in Toronto when the Leafs put the puck in their net in the final minute.
That was one was credited to Buffalo goalie Mika Noronen, the only time in franchise history a goalie has been credited as the scorer. Sabres goalie Matt Hackett had fleeting visions of joining Noronen.
“I was trying to think, ‘Did I touch it last? Is it me?’ ” said Hackett, who made 29 saves. “It was a weird goal, a good bounce. I was a little confused. I was like, ‘What’s going on here? Are they going to blow it down? Keep going, keep going.’ It went in. I’ve never seen that in my whole career.”
Too bad it didn’t produce a win. Conacher was joined in the box a minute later by Mike Weber, who went for cross-checking. With the two-man advantage, Ryan Callahan took a Stamkos feed for a tap-in to tie the game at 10:07.
In OT, Stamkos took a pass from Valtteri Filppula and ripped home his second goal of the night and 23rd of the season past Hackett. It improved Tampa Bay’s longest point streak since 2004 to 11 games (7-0-4) while dropping the Sabres to 1-10-1 in their last 12.
Tampa Bay was on the power play after a relatively ticky-tack hooking call on Drew Stafford 59 seconds into OT.
“It’s unfortunate. It’s a tough play” Stafford said. “... Those ones hurt. Stamkos is one of the best if not the best in the league in getting those looks. He put one in his own net even. After getting a break like that, I thought that we maybe deserved a little bit better.”
Two nights after a hideous no-show in Nashville that produced a 6-1 loss, the Sabres took a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Matt D’Agostini and Cody Hodgson. Tampa tied it, however, before the period ended, with Stamkos pulling the Lightning even with 13.6 seconds left.
The Sabres are off until hosting New Jersey on Tuesday night and there’s a good chance Nolan could have the interim tag removed from his title by then. He’s closing in on finalizing a three-year contract extension but denied rumors emerging late Friday night out of Toronto that his representatives have completed their talks with General Manager Tim Murray.
“One thing with those ‘insiders’ is they have a lot of information from somewhere that I’m not too sure where they get it,” said Nolan, who pointedly answered “no” when asked if it was done.
“Tim and I are real close on getting something done,” Nolan said. “As I mentioned all along I’m very excited about the possibility of staying here. Now it’s to a point where it’s really close and I’m going to be really excited when we get it officially done.”