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Canadiens @ Sabres game recap: Montreal falls to Buffalo for the third time this season

The Habs got the lead in the third, but couldn’t hang on to secure the two points.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres looked about as enthused about the game starting at 4:00 PM Eastern Time as you probably were yesterday. Each team possessed the puck and had a few shots on goal in the opening half of the first period, but there were no dangerous chances to speak of.

The degree of difficulty increased for Antti Niemi first, thanks to a point shot through traffic with over 12 minutes gone. He was saved by the post, but only temporarily as rookie Casey Mittelstadt was right at the side of the net to knock the rebound between the pipes for a 1-0 Sabres lead.

Image credit: Natural Stat Trick

In a period where not many Habs stood out, Brett Kulak was making an impression in his Habs debut with good puck decisions and a sense of urgency when he had a chance to get out of his own zone. Those were areas in which the regular corps had struggled in recent weeks, and his effectiveness was obvious right from the outset.

Montreal came out in the second with a better effort, as they often tend to do after a poor opening frame. They were the only club racking up shots in the first few minutes, pressing for a tying goal.

A good shift from Max Domi’s line was one of the first on which the team really pressed in close to the net seeking a goal. The forwards whacked away at the puck right around the top of the crease, but were unable to beat Carter Hutton.

Brendan Gallagher was forced to get creative in his attempt to solve Buffalo’s netminder. With his upper body completely wrapped up by a Sabres defender, he used his feet to knock in the puck. The NHL may now have a new standard to show referees for what kind of footwork isn’t legal for propelling the puck into the net, so the goal didn’t count.

He used a more conventional method with the period coming to a close. A team effort more akin to what the Canadiens were pulling off with regularity to begin the season started the play off. A pass from Jordie Benn got the puck to Tomas Tatar on the half wall, and Phillip Danault and Gallagher then skated it down the ice. Gallagher ended up with the puck in the offensive zone, and he wristed a shot that Hutton couldn’t contain.

The Canadiens received their first power play of the night in the final seconds of the frame, but were unable to do much of anything with it on either side of the second intermission.

They fared much better with Jason Pominville in the box eight minutes into the third. It took just five seconds for a faceoff win to get the puck to the blue line for a David Schlemko shot and a redirection by Andrew Shaw to put the Canadiens in the lead.

A decent job to limit the chances of Jeff Skinner and the Sabres’ top line didn’t make it the whole 60 minutes. With 150 seconds left to play, Niemi made a blocker save but punched the rebound out to his right. Skinner was there to collect it on his backhand and quickly hit it back toward the goal that Niemi was in no position to defend.

The Canadiens survived an ensuing period of momentum for the home side, getting the game to overtime and claiming a point in the process.

In the 3-on-3 period, Domi found himself under pressure alone in his own zone. He quickly tossed it out of the zone to avoid the pressure of a forechecker, but that decision only resulted in an even worse situation for him to face. With the puck intercepted, the full complement of Sabres players bore down on the Habs net, forcing Domi to defend a rush. He was unable to match the pace of Rasmus Ristolainen, and took a slashing penalty to prevent the defencemen from netting the OT winner in consecutive games versus Montreal.

It turned out the penalty simply delayed the celebration for the hosts. A shot on goal on the power play couldn’t be corralled by Niemi, and a scramble ensued around the net. Jeff Petry went to his knees in the crease to help his goaltender cover the net, but the puck bounced off him and then his goaltender before entering the net behind them.

With the goal, the Sabres have taken all three games from the Canadiens so far this season, with one more left on the schedule.

The Canadiens have enjoyed a better result in the series with the Boston Bruins, winning the first game 3-0 for the team’s only shutout of the year. They’ll hope Carey Price can help them grab another win tonight in Boston.