Even after winning consecutive games for the first time in 11 weeks, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff left Montreal shaking his head at Buffalo's bad luck.
The Sabres used a 40-shot barrage to earn a 3-1 victory over Montreal, giving them back-to-back victories for the first time since Nov. 11. Thomas Vanek, though, wasn't around to celebrate. The Sabres' leading goal scorer suffered an upper-body injury in the first period Tuesday. He played a regular shift, including the final one of the frame, but didn't return for the second.
"The sense of winning was great," Ruff said. "The sense of losing Thomas to another injury is something that you just shake your head as a coach again. You're trying to gain ground. You're trying to move up. You're trying to put a little streak together, and we lose another important piece.
"He's going to be out for a period of time. Our initial thought is maybe a week, but our doctor is going to have to evaluate it. It's the type of injury we're going to have to dig a little deeper on."
The Sabres will go for three wins in a row tonight when they host the New York Rangers in First Niagara Center.
Despite their persistent peppering of Canadiens goalie Carey Price, the Sabres were stuck in a 1-1 tie entering the third period. They scored the game winner with 13:43 left.
Brad Boyes circled behind the Montreal net and spun at the goal line with two defenders on him. He put a pass through the crease perfectly onto the stick of Paul Gaustad, who deflected the puck home and immediately pointed to Boyes as the crowd of 21,273 in Bell Centre groaned.
"I know that's where Paul's going to be," said Boyes, who earned just his second assist and third point in 15 games. "I was just looking to throw it on net. Especially with those guys, you've got to change the way you play because you know that's where they're going to be. Paul did a great job of getting in position and being strong with it."
The goal was Gaustad's second in five games and fifth of the season. He earned his second assist of the night when he helped Patrick Kaleta find the empty net with 51.1 seconds left.
The three-point night wasn't what had the Canadiens cursing Gaustad, however. He had a verbal battle with Montreal's Max Pacioretty following Kaleta's goal, and the Habs said Gaustad taunted Pacioretty by bringing up Zdeno Chara. The Boston captain broke Pacioretty's neck on a hit in Montreal.
"I don't think it was right to talk about a guy that had an incident that broke his neck," Montreal forward Mathieu Darche said. "It was classless. They were arguing, and he said, 'Where's Chara? Where's Chara?' You know that's what he implies."
Said Montreal's Erik Cole: "I didn't hear it, but I know a lot of guys from our bench were asking him where he was when [Milan] Lucic ran [Ryan] Miller."
Miller was at his best while the Canadiens tried for the comeback. The Sabres' goaltender made 13 saves in the third period and finished with 27. His 234th victory tied Dominik Hasek's franchise record.
"It's one of those things you kind of smile about looking back later on," Miller said. "I'm going to take it for what it is because I think Dom would have won a few shootouts in his day."
The Canadiens put the Sabres in a 1-0 hole after just 4:09. Pacioretty stole the puck from Matt Ellis and skated three-quarters of the ice alone toward Miller. The goalie stopped the breakaway attempt, but Pacioretty was still alone for the rebound and slid it under Miller's right pad.
Buffalo got on the board with 4:01 elapsed in the second, tying the game at 1-1. Christian Ehrhoff entered the Montreal zone and dropped a pass for Gaustad. The center quickly slid the puck to Ville Leino on the left side. The winger dangled to get around sliding defenseman Raphael Diaz, then ripped a shot past Price's glove.
The goal was Leino's first since Dec. 7, ending an 11-game drought.
"The last five games I've been feeling confident," Leino said. "I've been working hard on my game every day. It's been a tough season for me and the whole team, but hopefully we'll start to get going here.
"We were skating well. We were shooting. We were confident in making plays when they were there, really hard on the puck. That's how we've got to play. When you work hard and make plays, it's contagious."