Clearly burned out from their grueling schedule, the Buffalo Sabres could have packed it in when they fell into a two-goal hole after 40 minutes Saturday. It had already been a bad night because star Thomas Vanek was KO'd in the first period by an ugly facial plunking from a puck.
But there's no fear of adversity in the Sabres' locker room anymore. Playing without Vanek, the NHL's third-leading goal scorer, Buffalo wiped out a 2-0 deficit in the third period to steal a point in an eventual 3-2 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators in Scotiabank Place.
The shootout went four rounds and Ottawa won it, 3-2, with Mike Fisher getting the deciding goal.
Much of the postgame chatter, however, was about Vanek. He appeared to take a hard blow to the right side of his face on a shot from the right point by Ottawa defenseman Anton Volchenkov with 7:52 left in the first period. The puck may have glanced lightly off his shoulder but Vanek immediately put his glove to his face and sprinted off the ice to get assistance from Buffalo trainers.
"Right now, he's suffered a big laceration on his jaw," said coach Lindy Ruff. "We don't know if there's any fracture there and he'll be evaluated when we get home. We're hoping there's nothing there. He was in a lot of pain. The teeth got pushed up a little bit but they are involved on the lower jaw part."
"We're a little scared because we don't know a lot of details," said goalie Ryan Miller. "Anytime a guy takes a puck in the face and misses the rest of the night, you're hoping it's nothing major where he still has all his teeth and doesn't have a concussion or anything else from that impact."
Vanek was perhaps only 20 feet from Volchenkov and the puck may have been rolling, causing it to rise unexpectedly.
"The puck got up quick," said linemate Drew Stafford. "That's pretty scary. It had to have been on edge if it got up that fast."
Vanek, who has 32 goals this season, has been one of the Sabres' main iron men. He played in his 225th straight game Saturday, the team's top current streak and has only missed one regular-season game in his four years in the NHL. That came when he was a healthy scratch in Toronto on April 3, 2006.
Adam Mair and Stafford scored in the first eight minutes of the third period to get Buffalo even and give the Sabres 62 points, one behind Philadelphia and the New York Rangers for fifth in the Eastern Conference. Miller stopped 40 of 42 shots.
Ales Kotalik and Tim Connolly scored in the shootout but Brian Elliott stopped Stafford and Derek Roy fired high and wide in the last round to give Ottawa the win and snap the Sens' four-game losing streak. It was new coach Cory Clouston's first NHL victory in his third game.
"A point is big but I'm still a little ticked about the shootout because it could have been two," Miller said. "You can argue we didn't deserve to get any out of this building tonight but you've got to take them where you get them."
The Sabres are idle until hosting the Senators Wednesday in HSBC Arena. It was Buffalo's third game in four nights after their Western road trip ended Monday in Anaheim.
"That was a huge point for us, especially coming back," Stafford said. "The schedule has been tough for us and winning the past two games before this was a huge testament to our character. Battling to get a point is something that's positive."
Mair's sixth of the season came at 1:06 of the third on a neat feed from Tim Connolly, who stole the puck near the Ottawa blue line. Stafford tied it on a power play at 7:25, taking a Roy feed and deking around Elliott for his 15th.
"We might have caught their penalty kill a little flat there," Stafford said. "We took advantage because I was skating through the hole and [Roy] made a great pass."
After a scoreless first period, Nick Foligno and Antoine Vermette tallied in the second period for Ottawa. Vermette's goal at 17:08 was a laser under the crossbar that boomeranged out of the net. Play continued for 39 seconds before a whistle, and the goal was confirmed by replay.