Nothing is ever easy for the Buffalo Sabres. At least not this year.
When the other team loses three forwards to injury in the first eight minutes and is on the second night of a back-to-back run, you'd think the Sabres could find a few openings to coast home.
But the gritty Montreal Canadiens dug in deeper Tuesday and managed to survive long enough to grind out a point. The Sabres, however, made the key plays to get the two points they desperately needed.
After pest extraordinaire Nathan Gerbe drew a penalty in the final minute of regulation, Jason Pominville cashed in on the overtime power play as Buffalo pulled out a 2-1 win over the Habs before 18,225 in HSBC Arena.
The Sabres snapped their four-game losing streak against the Canadiens, which included all three previous meetings this season. They also improved to 6-2-1 in their last nine overall with a good bounce-back from Saturday's no-show on Long Island.
The Sabres are eight points behind eighth-place Atlanta in the Eastern Conference and five behind No. 9 Carolina, which lost to Boston for the second straight day. The Sabres' next game is against the Bruins on Thursday night in TD Garden.
Ryan Miller made a couple of great saves to keep the Sabres afloat, including a stoning of Tomas Plekanec with five minutes left after the Habs center was in alone following a pass from Andrei Kostitsyn.
Miller then started the play on the game-winner, quickly getting the puck to Tyler Ennis up the ice. Ennis moved the puck into the Habs zone, curling down the right wing to find Thomas Vanek in the circle. With what essentially became a two-on-one, Vanek passed to his left to an open Pominville for a one-timer to beat Carey Price at 1:09 of the OT.
Scott Gomez took a foolish high-sticking penalty, a swing at Gerbe with 42.4 seconds left in regulation, to give Buffalo the man advantage. The Sabres then regrouped during the break prior to OT as the power play switched to the overtime four-on-three.
"It's not a timeout but between [the third period and OT] there's a minute and a half or so where the coaches talked about what we wanted," Pominville said. "We were able to get a couple looks early on and then the play at the end wasn't diagrammed. It was just a play off the rush. Enzo [Ennis] makes a good play, Van made a great play and I just had to put it in."
"Gerbe did a great job getting that penalty to get that power play," Ennis said. "When you get a chance in overtime like that, you have to bury it. It was big for us for Pommer to do that."
Pominville said he called for the puck but Vanek had clearly known the winger would be in that area anyway.
"He saw me earlier. I just wanted to make sure because I saw the lane," Pominville said.
The goal's genesis really began with Gerbe, who had the Habs chasing him all over the ice. Gerbe ended up on top of Gomez in a scrum with 3:27 left in regulation after Brian Gionta had clubbed Miller in the head after Miller made a save.
The Sabres responded to the shot en masse and Gomez seemed particularly agitated by the 5-foot-5 Gerbe.
"I have the tendency to get under a lot of people's skin," Gerbe said. "It's just the way I play. Aggressive, kind of an agitator out there."
"I thought he might have been one of our hardest workers in the game," coach Lindy Ruff said of Gerbe. "His backchecking, the way he was under the skin of a few guys. That's the type of tenacity you need to see out of Nathan. He made a difference."
This game was a war of attrition. The Sabres lost winger Drew Stafford with a groin injury after just two shifts of the first period (his status will become clearer today), while Montreal lost Michael Cammalleri (separated shoulder), Max Pacioretty (rib) and Jeff Halpern (upper body) before the first period was halfway through.
Pacioretty struggled off the ice after taking an errant shot from teammate James Wisniewski and left the building on a stretcher. He was taken to Buffalo General Hospital for observation of possible internal injuries.
The teams traded power play goals over the first two periods. David Desharnais scored for Montreal at 5:19 of the first and Ennis responded for Buffalo with his 11th at 11:21 of the second.
>Sabres 2,Canadiens 1 (OT)
Slap shots: Pominville gets winner ... Three Montreal forwards injured in first period; Cammalleri suffers separated shoulder, Pacioretty hospitalized with rib problem. .... Ennis scores for Buffalo in second period.
Fast fact: It was the 3,000th road game in Montreal's NHL history, which dates to 1917.
Next game: Thursday at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m in TD Garden