After what seemed like an eternity following an exhilarating come from behind win in Toronto last Saturday night, the Montreal Canadiens were finally back in action on Wednesday night.
Standing in their way is a surprising Buffalo Sabres squad that was coming off an overtime loss on Monday night to the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was the first game that head coach Claude Julien tinkered with the lineup, inserting Mike Reilly and Christian Folin in as the third pair while giving the Brett Kulak and Cale Fleury tandem the night off.
In net, it was the first start for the Master of Emojis, Keith Kinkaid while opposite of him would be Carter Hutton who was looking to build on his undefeated record so far this year. In the end, a third straight comeback was not enough as they fell 5-4 in overtime.
Montreal took the early control, rolling line after line into the Sabres offensive zone and piling up their chances in the opening minutes. It looked like only a matter of time before the Canadiens would find a goal, but an interference penalty on Tomas Tatar immediately shifted the ice against Montreal. A quick moving power play cycled the puck through Montreal’s penalty kill and Jack Eichel threaded a pass to Victor Olofsson who blistered his chance by Keith Kinkaid for a 1-0 lead.
Neither side made much of the following minutes, with sloppy play taking over the game, but the Canadiens needed to find their legs or risk falling farther behind a suddenly very inspired Buffalo attack. Montreal didn’t help their own case with Jesperi Kotkaniemi heading to the box for tripping, and putting the red-hot Sabres power play on the ice. This time though it would be Montreal finding the back of the net, Joel Armia powered through Rasmus Dahlin, and Nate Thompson collected the loose puck. Armia cut behind Jack Eichel and Thompson found him with a simple pass that Armia lifted by Carter Hutton to tie the game.
Armia wasn’t done tormenting his former club just yet, as the Canadiens drew a later power play thanks to a Dahlin interference call. While the top unit couldn’t find the power play goal, the second one did, thanks to some help from Rasmus Ristolainen. Nick Suzuki pressured the Finn behind the net and swept the puck right in front of Buffalo’s net, where Joel Armia had no issue rifling home his second goal of the game, and giving Montreal a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Montreal again came flying out of the gate to start the period, piling up their time in the Buffalo end, and nearly adding a third goal from Armia to put the pressure on the Sabres. Also like the first period, a poorly timed penalty by Tatar sent Buffalo back to a power play, and on that man advantage Jack Eichel walked in and fired an laser-guided strike off the post and in behind Kinkaid to tie the game at two goals apiece.
It only took a few minutes for Buffalo to hand Montreal a chance to break the deadlock with Vladimir Sobotka high-sticking Shea Weber. The Canadiens man-advantage would not be aided by an errant pass from a Sabres penalty killer this time, but they would ramp up the pressure at even strength following the failed power play. It would be Buffalo that struck next, with Eichel circling back from his own zone, taking on both Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot, then ripping his second goal of the game by Kinkaid to give the Sabres the lead again.
From there the Sabres assumed full control of the period, peppering Kinkaid who responded with a number of big stops as Montreal failed to work their way out of the defensive zone. Perhaps no stop was bigger than a set play between Eichel and Jeff Skinner that Kinkaid had to slide across the goal to get a piece of in the dying minutes of the period. The two sides headed into the second intermission with Montreal desperately looking for a counter to the heavy Sabres attack.
That Sabres attack would strike quickly, with Jeff Skinner beating Victor Mete and neatly tucking the puck by a sprawling Kinkaid to put Buffalo up by a pair of goals just 47 seconds into the third period. The resilient Canadiens would not go away however, with Mike Reilly leading a brave charge up ice before dishing off to Jonathan Drouin. Drouin spun around his defender, throwing the puck around the boards, and Joel Armia deflecting it to the front of the net. Jesperi Kotkaniemi was all over the puck and sniped a shot by Hutton to draw Montreal within one.
A Marcus Johansson holding call set up Montreal to tie the game, but the man advantage failed to find any real attack, and was handled somewhat easily by the Sabres. The shift following the power play though it would be Tomas Tatar being stopped by Hutton once, and having a second chance hit off the post (both of which he celebrated) but the Canadiens still had not found their tying goal.
The Montreal attack did not relent, with Drouin faking out Dahlin and breaking in on a perfect two-on-one with Armia, but the big Finn steered his chance wide of the net. Then it was line after line pressuring the Buffalo netminder, but Hutton stood tall, and helped by some shots whizzing over the top of the net from the defenders in Montreal sweaters.
It was then the unlikeliest of sources where Montreal found their tying goal, from Ben Chiarot. The hulking defender grabbed the puck and waited as he settled it down, then ripped a shot right by Hutton for his first in a Montreal uniform, and more importantly tied the game at 4-4.
A heart-stopping final minute nearly saw Eichel complete his hat trick, but a deft block by Chiarot saved the late goal, but a Phillip Danault slashing call sent the Sabres to another power play. The never-say-die Habs forced overtime, killing the first 35 seconds of the minor, but faced a stern test in overtime for the third straight game. Some brave blocks from Shea Weber killed the penalty, but as Danault exited the box Marcus Johansson was left wide open and had no issue beating Kinkaid for the overtime winning goal.
Montreal will be back in action tomorrow night for their home opener against the Detroit Red Wings, puck drop is at 7:00 p.m. EST.