By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
You should have learned this lesson by now, but it bears repeating.
Don’t leave a Buffalo Sabres’ game before its conclusion, no matter how bleak their chances might be at a given moment.
This “refuse to lose gang,” who went by much different nicknames last season, struck again on Friday at the KeyBank Center. The Sabres earned their eighth straight victory, a 3-2 overtime decision over the Montreal Canadiens.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team that won eight straight,” Jeff Skinner said. “I’m contributing offensively, and it’s a good feeling.”
We haven’t seen a run like this in Buffalo for more than a decade. The team also has come from behind in six of those eight wins and it would take some research to find out if that’s ever been a part of a Sabre run of victories.
For a team to do this after finishing last overall, well, it’s as stunning and sweet to Sabre Nation as it is joyful.
An even matchup
For about 48 minutes, the Sabres and Canadiens played a relatively even hockey game. Montreal’s Andrew Shaw deflected home a shot on the power play at that point to give his team a 2-1 lead. Buffalo picked up its play a bit from there in hopes of tying matters up.
“We really didn’t have that focus until the third period,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said.
Then the fun began. Zach Bogosian’s shot was turned aside by Motnreal goalie Antti Netti … right to Skinner, who had plenty of room to score his 16th. Both Buffalo goal in regulation came on plays started by defensemen.
“That’s the way it goes sometimes,” Bogosian said. “We’re getting shots through and on to the nets, and we’re generating opportunities.”
Just to add a little drama to the final moments of regulation, a strange bounce led to a golden opportunity in front of the net by Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher. But goalie Carter Hutton passed that test to keep the game tied.
“I believe it hit a camera hole,” Hutton said. “I was screaming, my voice was cracking. I think everyone that was drifting out of the zone and didn’t know it was there.”
Once the game hit overtime, the people in the building who weren’t wearing Canadiens’ jerseys (there are always a few) figured the Sabres would find a way to win somehow. Success breeds success, after all. Rasmus Ristolainen charged to the net and drew a penalty from Max Domi to put the Sabres on the power play.
“He was a force,” Housley said about Ristolainen’s play, particularly in overtime.
Buffalo controlled the puck for almost all of the rest of the game, setting up others for one-timers with the four-on-three advantage.
“There’s a lot more space out there,” Skinner said. “The system is a little different, but killing it (in overtime) is a bit different too.”
Finally, the puck found its way toward the net. Skinner took the puck and whacked it toward the goal. It went through two Montreal players’ legs and into the net for win number eight.
Skinner didn’t know what had happened until he heard the roar.
“I didn’t see it go in,” he said. “It’s a nice way to find out. They (the fans) were into it.”
“I can’t remember I have seen someone that hot,” Bogosian said about Skinner’s spree of 11 goals in his last 11 games. “It’s good to see. He’s a huge part of the team.”
Immediately following the game, the Sabres found themselves with 32 points – the most in the Eastern Conference. Yes, Tampa Bay and Toronto still had to finish their games on Friday. But for that moment, Buffalo had reached a mountaintop … and the view was mighty good.
Next up is a trip to Detroit on Saturday night to play the Red Wings. If you are watching, just be sure to put the remote down until it’s over.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB.)