Canadiens’ Steve Bégin is in hot pursuit of the puck.
Dave Sandford, Getty Images
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Thomas Vanek scored with 8:33 left to play tonight, taking advantage of a highly dubious penalty called on Montreal defenceman Mike Komisarek 76 seconds earlier, to give the Buffalo Sabres a 4-2 victory over the visiting Canadiens.
Daniel Paille scored an empty-net goal with 14 seconds to play to add the insurance goal.
Vanek backhanded a rebound past Canadiens goalie Carey Price with Komisarek serving a tripping penalty, the Montreal rearguard having dived to clear a puck, Sabres’ Derek Roy sailing over his stick to draw the minor.
The call left Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau practically beside himself in anger, and Komisarek delivered a few words to referee Dan Marouelli as he skated back to the Habs bench. Carbonneau mockingly applauded the referees as he returned to the dressing room after the game.
Shots on goal were even at 32-32.
The Canadiens didn’t help themselves by having to fight from behind for most of the evening.
Tomas Plekanec had brought the Habs back from a 2-0 deficit with the tying goal at 4:56 of the third, doing a nifty bit of shot-blocking to start the effort.
A shot by Sabres’ Jaroslav Spacek rattled off Plekanec’s shin, was scooped up by Andrei Kostitsyn in Montreal ice, and Kostitsyn sent Plekanec away on a fast-skating semi-break, where he stickhandled his way to a close-in short-side wrist shot past Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, Spacek giving desperate chase.
The Sabres were first on the scoreboard at 8:56 of the first period, Roy scoring his eighth of the season on a perfect deflection of a shot from the faceoff circle by Maxim Afinogenov. Canadiens’ Tom Kostopoulos was serving a slashing penalty at the time when the puck glanced past Price.
Soon afterward, the Habs earned a four-minute power-play of their own when Buffalo’s Henrik Tallinder cut Canadiens’ Alex Kovalev with a high stick across the bridge of his nose. The Habs got a couple of shots, but failed to mount any serious pressure on Miller.
With just less than two minutes to play in the first, Paille split Canadiens defencemen Roman Hamrlik and Patrice Brisebois to break in alone on Price, but was confidently turned back by the rookie Habs netminder.
Montreal outshot Buffalo 11-9 in the first period.
The Canadiens had a scare in the early moments of the game when defenceman Andrei Markov was tripped up and slid awkwardly into the boards of his own end, seeming to crush his left shoulder. Markov, having a terrific, potentially All-Star season, lay on the ice for a couple of minutes and was tended to by Canadiens head athletic trainer Graham Rynbend before getting to his feet and leaving the rink without help.
The Sabres made it 2-0 at 7:39 of the second. Tim Connolly scored his second of the year, banging a rare rebound off Price, a point shot by Brian Campbell caroming off the goalie’s left pad.
But the Canadiens got that one right back on the power play, Christopher Higgins netting his ninth of the year and third in as many games, whipping a wrist shot off his back foot past Miller. Higgins had done some fine work to first set up a point shot by Mark Streit.
Miller might have had a point when he complained that Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, who also earned an assist, had interfered with him, crashing through the crease a few seconds earlier.
The Sabres held a 13-10 edge in shots in the second period.
The Canadiens and Sabres both chartered out of Buffalo for Montreal just after the game. The two teams meet again Saturday at the Bell Centre, before the Canadiens head down to Toronto for Tuesday’s game vs. the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
Statistical quick hits, pre-game:
– How the Canadiens and Sabres match up this season and through the years;
– Montreal’s penalty-killing unit is partly responsible for the team’s success on the road, with the Canadiens surrendering only seven goals in 50 power-play opportunities for their opponents this season, ranking it seventh in the NHL;
– Rosters and statistics.