It was a game on the edge that finally teetered over it for the Buffalo Sabres.
Former Sabre Paul Byron gave the Montreal Canadiens a 3-2 win over Buffalo Wednesday in First Niagara Center, scoring at 3:15 of overtime when his pass across the slot was redirected into the net by Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian.
“It’s a terrible bounce, goes right off my tape and in,” Bogosian said.
It was one of those old-time games, taking three minutes shy of three hours to complete. The teams combined for 100 penalty minutes, with three misconducts contributing to the Sabres’ season-high total of 52. For several minutes in the third period, there were four Sabres in the penalty box and three of them (Bogosian, Matt Moulson and Nic Deslauriers) were serving 10-minute calls.
But in reality, the final play was really the least of the Sabres’ worries. In their first year under coach Dan Bylsma, the Sabres have not violated the old Mary Levy tenet of don’t play dumb and don’t play dirty. But they crossed the dumb line more than a couple times Wednesday and, unlike Rex Ryan, Bylsma wasn’t proud of the boys for their clear lack of composure.
“I wouldn’t have looked at it as a problem at too many other times but today, absolutely,” Bylsma said. “I don’t think I’ve seen quite the type of calls that both teams received today in terms of 10 minutes. We certainly let the game get away from us with our composure level. It was a factor in the second period, it was a factor in the third period with us getting off tilt and being affected by the game and the referee.”
Fans love the way goaltender Robin Lehner can get involved in scrums - and Internet memes go wild with Lehner’s death stares - but he probably was a little overexuberant in this one.
Lehner facewashed Habs winger Michael McCarron and got an extra roughing minor with 30 seconds left in the second period as every player on the ice got into the fray near the Buffalo crease except Montreal goaltender Ben Scrivens, who came to his own blue line and got taunted by Lehner to join the party.
“They played tough but they didn’t do anything,” Lehner grumbled. “I mean, drop the gloves.”
The Habs broke a 1-1 tie with a power-play goal off Lehner’s penalty, an Andrei Markov shot with 2.7 seconds left in the period that tipped home off Brian Gionta’s stick.
“I’m not sure I would necessarily agree with the call and how the penalties were disbursed,” Bylsma said. “But we give the referee an opportunity to make a call by Robin getting involved.”
The Sabres and Habs have played four times in a 21-game strech and seemed to have developed a mutual sickness for each other as if they were back in the old Adams Division.
“At this point, every game is intense,” Bogosian said. “I don’t know if it’s sick of anyone. A lot of teams are making a push and they will be high-intensity games. It’s nice to see emotion.”
This game was hard to figure. The Sabres dominated the first period but held only a 1-0 lead despite outshooting the Habs, 15-5. The final count was 43-22 and 5-0 in overtime, but the Sabres still couldn’t produce a win (It should be noted in a rarely called oddity that scorers did not award a shot on goal to Byron or the Habs on the game-winner, calling it a pass that Bogosian directed in).
Scrivens entered the game with an ugly 3.00 goals-against average and an unsightly .902 save percentage. But he made a season-high 41 saves and earned his first road win since he was with Edmonton nearly 13 months ago.
The Sabres looked in deep trouble when Evander Kane took an unnecessary cross-checking penalty on Byron with 10:57 left and compounded it by chirping at officials and getting nailed with an unsportsmanlike conduct call. But the Sabres did a good job killing the four-minute situation - and even managed to get the game even at 11:56 on Marcus Foligno’s second short-handed goal of the season.
David Legwand did a masterful job holding the puck in the Buffalo zone as the Sabres changed, then fired a perfect pass to Foligno in full stride off the bench. Foligno burst into the Montreal zone to beat Scrivens between the legs for his 10th goal of the season to get the Sabres even.
“Leggy actually tricked me,” Foligno said. “I thought he already dumped the puck. I looked back to see he still had it. He made a great pass, It was a semi-breakaway there and I just tried to get a shot off quick. It found five-hole.”
Bylsma’s breakup of the top offensive line of Kane with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart seemed to backfire as Eichel and Reinhart had no points and did not produce much offense in the game playing with Zemgus Girgensons. Kane did have six shots on goal playing with Ryan O’Reilly, back after missing 11 games with a broken foot.
O’Reilly had three shots on goal and played 22:02, just above his season average.