At this time in the season, every “three point game” really nags on contending teams watching on the sidelines. Two of today’s most interesting Eastern Conference showdowns required extensive shootouts, with the Buffalo Sabres besting the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 while the Philadelphia Flyers earned their first win of the season against the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3.
Jhonas Enroth is no Ryan Miller, but he was good enough (32 saves) to keep the scrappy Sabres undefeated in shootouts. Even if it took 10 rounds for Buffalo to best Carey Price and the Canadiens.
It wasn’t easy by any means, as Buffalo looked like they might be in a little trouble after allowing goals by Max Pacioretty and Benoit Pouliot to start the game. Yet Drew Stafford keeps putting this team on his back, scoring his 24th goal of the season on the power play. (Although he didn’t manage another hat trick this time around, the slacker.)
Jason Pominville came up big as well scoring the game-tying goal while Jochen Hecht scored the deciding goal the shootout 4-3 in the 10th round.
The Sabres now find themselves in ninth place in the East, only two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes with two games in hand. They’re now 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, as the team keeps finding ways to win. Meanwhile Montreal missed an opportunity to take the Northeast Division lead after the Boston Bruins lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both Boston and Montreal are tied at 69 points, but the Bruins have one game in hand.
The East’s first ranked Flyers finally beat the second-ranked Lightning in this one, even if Tampa Bay gave them a serious run for their money. Philadelphia built a 3-1 lead, but the Bolts tied it up in a frenetic middle frame in which the two teams combined for five goals.
(Then again, these two explosive squads have traded blows before, although the Lightning got the best of that last slugfest.)
Kimmo Timonen ended up scoring the shootout winner in the seventh round. James van Riemsdyk produced a Gordie Howe hat trick for Philly while Dominic Moore had a goal in regulation and in the shootout for Tampa. Kris Versteeg was held pointless in his Flyers debut with 17:44 of ice time.
The Flyers are now two points behind the Vancouver Canucks in the Presidents Trophy race, while they now have a five point lead over the Lightning (for the first seed) and Pittsburgh Penguins (for the Atlantic Division title).
It’s not all bad for the Lightning, though, as they now hold a six point lead over the struggling Washington Capitals for the top spot in the Southeast. They’re still squeezing a lot of points out of this 12-game homestand, but we’ll see if they have the killer instinct to keep pushing.