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Sabres stay the course, pull out wacky thriller over Habs in OT

MONTREAL – Remember that wacky stat from earlier in the season about there not being a single comeback in any of the Buffalo Sabres' first eight games?

They made up for lost time Thursday night in the Bell Centre.

A lead was wiped out in five instances during one of the Sabres' wildest games in years, a 6-5 overtime thriller over the Montreal Canadiens that saw Buffalo blow four one-goal advantages and then finally win the game on Rasmus Ristolainen's slapshot at 1:38 of OT.

Four times, the Sabres scored to take a lead and four times the Habs came back to tie. One of them came in just 10 seconds, another in only 34 seconds.

Montreal had a 5-4 lead after two periods before Jeff Skinner's second of the night at 2:20 of the third got the Sabres even and set the stage for a dramatic finish.

The Sabres made plenty of mistakes in this one. Their power play was 0 for 3 and goaltender Linus Ullmark was pulled after 40 minutes in the wake of three questionable goals out of the five he gave up. The defense had poor gaps all night, allowing the Habs to work free in the Buffalo zone

This is not how you draw it up. But the Sabres, for the first time in a long time, now have enough firepower to overcome their shortcomings on a given night.

"That was a pretty bad game. You can't have those games," said Ristolainen. "But I think this game is going to make us tighter. We're going to grow as a group here. We got a pretty ugly win. Grind it out, big two points, and learn from it."

One of the biggest mistakes, in fact, was made by Ristolainen. He was caught in the Montreal zone in OT, just as he was on the winning goal by Calgary in the Flames Oct. 30 overtime win in KeyBank Center.

"He gets squeezed off, and we didn't support him very well," said coach Phil Housley. "That has happened to us so many times so it's good to see it go our way."

The Habs' Artturi Lehkonen fired wide on a 3-on-1 break and the puck skittered along the boards. Ristolainen suddenly found himself on the right side of the possession as he barreled through the neutral zone and beat Carey Price on the short side as he skated through the right faceoff circle.

"It was a long shift, and I had made a horrible play earlier," he said. "They missed the net and I was late coming in our zone, picked up the puck, looked up and saw they were pretty tired, too. I tried to skate as fast as I can and get my shot off and it went in.

"Bad play there, like I said. Who cares? It's two points."

Those two points got the Sabres even with Boston in the Atlantic Division standings at 18 points, within one of Montreal (19) and two of idle Toronto (20).

If you think it's too early to be looking at those kind of things, you haven't been following this club for the last five years. Nor did you hear the number of players in the locker room the last two days calling this game a big one and reiterating that fact after the final outcome.

"Especially on the road, it's tough when you give them those goals right back because you work so hard for the lead," Skinner said. "But great job by the guys. It was sort of one of those games where you had to stick with it, stick with it. And sooner or later, somebody on the team stepped up with a big play and guys were able to feed off that."

Penalty killers were big all night as the Habs were 0 for 5 on the power play and twice failed to score with a two-man advantage. Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella, Vladimir Sobotka and Johan Larsson got most of the PK time taken care of.

And Eichel made the big play on Skinner's goal, curling around Philip Danault on a set play immediately off the draw and feeding Skinner for a tap-in.

"I think I did most of the work there," Skinner deadpanned. "It was a good play by Eichs. Obviously he's got some pretty good hands. I was just trying to get my stick on the ice and be available for him. It was a big point in the game."

Housley got some things to go his way in this one as well. He pulled Ullmark after 40 minutes — and Hutton stopped Lehtonen on a short-handed breakaway 15 seconds into the third. Housley also put Sobotka at wing and Evan Rodrigues at center, and got the best game of the season from both as Sobotka had two goals and Rodrigues' two assists came in easily his best game of the year

"We've got a very resilient group and we've shown it," Housley said. "Our third period was our best period there. We kept coming, had terrific looks. In OT, it wasn't the way we planned it to get it but it worked out well for us."

The Wraparound: Sabres 6, Canadiens 5 (OT)

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