The Buffalo Sabres, in their final game before the All-Star break, were hoping to push their way into the playoff picture. They did, but only after overcoming a shove.
The Sabres escaped Ottawa with a 3-2 overtime victory as Shaone Morrisonn scored the game-winner 1:59 into the extra session. The goal was necessary after the Senators knotted the game with 6:04 left in regulation, a tally that had the Sabres and goaltender Ryan Miller furious.
Miller bumped and exchanged pokes with Senators much of the night. It cost him with 7:25 left when he was called for tripping Ryan Shannon. The Sens' Sergei Gonchar tied the game on the power play, though the goal came with more pushes and shoves that led Miller to scream at the officials.
Nick Foligno and Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera were battling in front when Foligno went for one last lunging shove. He bumped Miller in the process, just as Gonchar's slap shot sailed by.
The goaltender immediately argued, but the goal stood and the Sabres' 2-1 lead was gone.
"They said the puck was in before I was interfered with," Miller said. "I obviously strongly disagree with that version of what happened on the ice, and I let them know that."
The fans' cheers for the goal turned into a mocking chant of "Mill-er, Mill-er." He and the Sabres had the final word in OT.
Thomas Vanek worked the puck to Jason Pominville deep in the Ottawa zone, and Pominville fed the pinching Morrisonn in front. Goalie Brian Elliott stopped the initial wide-open opportunity, but Morrisonn scored on the rebound for his first goal with the Sabres.
"It's a huge two points," Morrisonn said. "It's nice to get that first one with the Sabres. It's taken a little longer than I thought, but I'm just happy to get that one."
The Sabres improved to 9-3-1 in their last 13 games. They closed within four points of the final playoff spot, though eighth-place Atlanta hosts Washington tonight.
No matter what the Thrashers do, it won't change the fact the Sabres broke for the week feeling good about their game and their run. They are off until Feb. 4, when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"We really had to dig ourselves out, and I think we should feel good about what we've done as we go into the break on a high note here," said Miller, who made 27 saves. "Guys should get their energy because that last push is the most intense."
The All-Star break should allow the Sabres to get healthy. Center Tim Connolly has missed two games with a hip flexor. Right wing Patrick Kaleta has missed nine of 12 with a broken hand. Vanek has been struggling through an upper-body injury. Eight days off should allow them to recover enough to face the Penguins.
Although they won, the break also should allow the Sabres to forget their game against the Senators. They were careless with the puck throughout.
"It's one of those games where there's a lot of turnovers, and we just kind of had to battle through it," said Morrisonn, whose turnover in the opening minutes allowed the Sens' Chris Kelly to start the scoring.
The Sabres finished the first period with a 2-1 lead thanks to goals by hometown boy Paul Byron and Jochen Hecht.
Byron tied the game and heard applause from the 40 to 50 friends and family members in attendance with 9:55 left. Tyler Ennis carried the puck into the Ottawa zone and passed to the crease. The driving Byron tipped the puck past Elliott for his first NHL goal in his second career game.
The Ottawa native, who played junior hockey across the river in Gatineau, Quebec, welcomed a leaping Ennis into his arms.
"I couldn't imagine it any better than that," the 21-year-old said. "It's unbelievable. I never thought I would score my first goal in Ottawa, and it's a great feeling."
Elliott showed why he entered the crease on a 10-game losing streak with 4:11 left. Hecht's slow backhand from the bottom of the right circle slid past the netminder, giving the Sabres their 2-1 advantage.
The Sabres had several giveaways in addition to the early Morrisonn turnover, but fortunately for them they were playing the Senators. Ottawa scored just 106 goals in its opening 49 games, and the floodgates failed to open in the 50th. The Senators repeatedly shot wide, missed passes or declined to fire when given prime opportunities off Buffalo mistakes.
They finally capitalized on their breaks on Miller's tripping call and the ensuing bump. It wasn't enough.
"It was great to get the win," coach Lindy Ruff said. "You always want to win your last one, especially going into the break."
>Sabres 3, Senators 2 (OT)
Slap shots: Sabres hit All-Star break on two-game winning streak and move to 9-3-1 in last 13 games. ... Morrisonn scores his first goal with Buffalo in overtime. ... Byron scores first NHL goal in his hometown.
Fast fact: Drew Stafford has returned from injuries three times and has at least one point in every comeback game.
Next game: Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. Feb. 4 in Consol Energy Center.