Through some wicked adversity and a few stretches of wickedly poor play, a lot had gone wrong for the Buffalo Sabres in losing the last four games.
Then they hit the ice Friday in First Niagara Center to a huge roar – from the red-clad fans of the Montreal Canadiens, who pretty much took over large chunks of the 100 level.
In the end, it was the Sabres who grabbed control and finally sent their fans home happy in a season in which that hasn’t happened too often.
Marcus Foligno’s career-high three-point night included Buffalo’s first penalty shot goal downtown in more than six years as the Sabres dumped the Habs, 6-4.
Foligno had his first two-goal game of the season, the first a deflection of a Phil Varone pass 2:18 into the second period. The penalty shot came with 2:19 to play in the period after he was hooked from behind on a breakaway. It was the first attempt of his career.
“There’s excitement and a lot of thinking about what to do,” said Foligno, who has six goals on the season. “You don’t have much time to think about it. You’re up and you’ve got to go. It’s only you. It’s a lot of pressure but it’s fun pressure and it was great to score that one.”
On the bench, players and coaches were guessing Foligno’s move and thought he’d go with a deke they’d seen in practice. Wrong. He fired a wrist shot and it was a laser just under the crossbar to beat Mike Condon.
“I just thought about getting it over his glove,” Foligno said. “It’s something I’ve done in practice and with the ice in the second like that, you don’t want to stickhandle too much. Get a good shot off and it ended up being a good one.”
“I loved it. It was good,” said a smiling Evander Kane, who also scored twice. “It was a big goal obviously, an important one. He looked like he knew what he was doing, that’s for sure.”
The last Sabres penalty shot goal was by Tyler Ennis at Carolina on March 13, 2014. But it’s been a much longer wait at home, as the last goal was posted by Drew Stafford against Pittsburgh on Dec. 29, 2009.
The Sabres have been stopped on 12 straight shootout goals dating to October and Foligno hasn’t had a single attempt this season. That might change now. Has Foligno earned a spot the next time the skills competition comes up?
“I maybe anticipated that question,” coach Dan Bylsma said, laughing. “I thought about it too, yes.”
It was Foligno’s 15th career multi-point game and 11 of them have come at home.
“I felt real engaged. I felt we needed an answer,” Foligno said, referring to Thursday’s 5-1 clunker in Philadelphia. “I just felt as a team we needed to bring it.”
“It’s what he can be,” Bylsma said. “He’s a hard guy to play against. He’s a big guy, tough to handle if he’s skating and playing strong.”
It was a loose game filled with turnovers but also marked by good scoring chances at each end. Montreal yanked starting goalie Ben Scrivens when it fell behind, 3-1, early in the second period and Buffalo’s Chad Johnson made a blatant giveaway to Sven Andrighetto for a second-period goal but shut the door on the Habs for the entire third.
The Sabres finally had a breakout offensive night downtown, with a season-high goal output. They were just 1-7-2 in their last 10 at home, scoring only 18 goals in that stretch.
“You’re not going to win a lot of hockey games doing that,” Kane said.
All the offense helped quiet the huge Montreal contingent, which had really exploded when Andrighetto opened the scoring 3:44 into the game to give the Habs a head start on what they had hoped was their fourth straight win.
“You noticed the different atmosphere with the number of Montreal fans,” Bylsma said. “I felt it with them scoring the first goal. That didn’t feel so good with fans cheering in your building that way. I know it spurred me on. I didn’t want to have that happen again.”
“It’s fun to play in that atmosphere where the crowd’s in it and there’s hostility not just on the ice but off it,” Foligno said. “It gets you going.”
The Sabres even got some huge puck luck at the end on Kane’s empty net goal with 54.2 seconds left, a fluke play that saw a Ryan O’Reilly clearing attempt bounce off a linesman right to the Buffalo winger.
“It’s like when you play golf, you play the course,” said a smiling Kane. “I think ‘Ryals’ did that, got a nice bouncer. We’ve had some bad luck of late so it was nice to get a little luck.”
“It might not be the prettiest game. It certainly wasn’t a Picasso,” Bylsma said. “But this group fought hard. In the third there, we had some tense moments but we battled.”