It was the final home game of the season for the Buffalo Sabres and fan appreciation night at KeyBank Center.
Although it was a frustrating season for Buffalo, Sabres fans have stayed loyal to their team with 19,070 fans showing up game after game until the end, despite a sixth straight year without playoffs. The Montreal Canadians came into the game leading the Atlantic Division with 101 points.
There were plenty of red jerseys in the arena tonight from our friends north of the border. The Sabres came out with intensity and speed, looking like a completely different team from what showed up against Toronto 48 hours prior. The team seemed to be stressing physical play and speed as the game started with several big hits from Buffalo by Nicolas Deslauriers.
The Sabres struck first at 6:01 in the period with the play starting from Deslauriers coming with a full head of steam, running over his man and getting the puck to Jack Eichel. The play was then cycled up to the point to Josh Gorges and eventually found its’ way to Rasmus Ristolainen‘s stick with a great shot to put the Sabres up, 1-0.
Halfway through the first period, Montreal had a great opportunity right in front of Robin Lehner as the puck dribbled through the crease and then bounced off the post. The red goal light even went on, but despite some cheers from Montreal fans it was evident there was no goal.
The rest of the period there was plenty of action back and forth with both teams playing wide open hockey. At one point, Lehner had a great save on a Montreal breakaway by Alexander Radulov, which kept Buffalo in the lead. The Canadians outshot the Sabres by a slim margin of 11-8 after the first with both teams playing back and forth.
The beginning of the second period started with an excellent opportunity by Buffalo on an odd-man rush. Brian Gionta had a clean cross ice pass to Ryan O’Reilly who was stopped point blank twice as Price slid across the crease.
A player whose name hasn’t been called often this season had a great hard working play to put the Sabres up 2-0. At 11:35, Tyler Ennis worked the puck down low to Evander Kane, who fired the puck at the net and Ennis found the rebound to put Buffalo up by two goals.
Buffalo had plenty of scoring chances throughout the period with several odd-man rushes, and came close to scoring again. Kane found Gionta right in front of the net, but couldn’t make contact with the puck mid air for a wide-open net. They were out-working the Canadians as well as outshooting them in the second 15-12, and were playing very well together as a team.
The final period started out with Montreal scoring 46 seconds in with a Tomas Plekanec goal. This would be the lone goal of the game for Montreal, as Buffalo stepped up their defensive play as a unit for the entire game. There were few chances by both teams in the final period, however Tyler Ennis found himself on a breakaway, but Carey Price had a great save to keep the game within one.
Montreal pulled Price at the end of the game in an effort to tie it in regulation, but never had an opportunity to put the puck in the net. Despite Price being 12-2-0 in his last 14 starts, the Sabres found a way to sneak two past him for the win. Buffalo played like a complete team with solid play from Lehner, as well as great skating from players like Alexander Nylander, and Evan Rodrigues.
This was a complete team victory for the Sabres, who earned one final win at home in the 2016-2017 season. They were able to play strong defensively, and a healthy Tyler Ennis is something to watch for the final games of the season.
Buffalo received a much needed win for the fans, but more importantly, themselves. Playing well together and finishing on a positive note will be important for their young stars next season and for years to come.
The Sabres next game will be at Florida at 7 p.m. on Saturday. They’ll wrap up the season the following day against Tampa Bay at 5 p.m.