OTTAWA – A loss for the playoff-bound Senators couldn’t spoil a special night for venerable Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Thomas Vanek scored four goals Saturday as the Buffalo Sabres snapped a nine-game losing streak against Ottawa with a 5-2 win on a night the Senators honoured Alfredsson for 1,000 career games.
“As much as it sucks to lose there are a lot of good things that came out of this day,” Senators star Jason Spezza. “It was a pretty special night for Alfie and for everybody to be a part of. We were happy to see him get the recognition he got.”
It was actually the 1,002nd game in Alfredsson’s career as No. 1,000 came Tuesday in Florida. He became just the 44th player in NHL history to play 1,000 or more games with one franchise.
There was a 25-minute ceremony prior to the game for Ottawa’s favourite Swede.
“It was classy by Buffalo to come out to the bench and be part of the ceremony,” said Alfredsson, who admitted to being a little nervous speaking in front of 20,500 fans at Scotiabank Place.
“It’s not something we do every day – speak in front of a lot of people – and I kind of lost my train of thought a couple of times when they started chanting my name. All in all, it was a great night and something I’ll take with me forever.”
Derek Roy also scored for the Sabres (45-26-10) and Ryan Miller made 28 saves to recorded his 41st win of the season.
Chris Neil and Shean Donovan scored for the Senators (44-32-6) while Pascal Leclaire made 23 saves.
It was the final game of the regular season for the Senators, who will finish fifth in the Eastern Conference. They will open the playoffs on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge but definitely not impossible,” said Alfredsson. “They have a lot of experience,but the biggest thing is going to be discipline and staying out of the penalty box as much as we can.”
The Sabres are in New Jersey on Sunday to close out the regular season. With a win in regulation Sabres will claim the second seed in the East, otherwise it will belong to the Devils.
“It was a good game for us overall and it’s nice for me to be back and capitalize on my opportunities,” said Vanek, who was playing his first game after missing six with a lower-body injury.
“We haven’t won in this building in a long time so this feels great.”
Roy gave the Sabres a 5-1 lead at 10:16 of the third period as he backhanded a puck in from the slot that the Senators were unable to clear from in front of the net.
With less than seven minutes to play Donovan picked up a rebound and put a backhand past Miller for the game’s final goal.
“That was a good example of the way we can play and it was important for us to get this win,” Miller said, who made a big save of Alfredsson in the opening minutes of the game.
The Sabres led 2-0 entering the second period when Neil was a recipient of a terrific behind-the-net pass from Peter Regin. The puck landed right on Neil’s stick for the easy tap in and the Senators first goal of the game. It’s the third time in Neil’s career that he has reached the 10-goal mark.
Vanek responded to Neil’s goal by scoring two more before the end of the period. His first came at 8:57, a little more than a minute after Neil scored, on a penalty shot. After being slashed by Senators defenceman Andy Sutton on a breakaway, Vanek was awarded the shot and beat Leclaire on the backhand.
Four minutes later on a Sabres power play, Vanek batted a puck out of midair past Leclaire for a 4-1 Sabres lead.
The Sabres sniper also scored the only two goals of the first period as he beat Leclaire at 9:14 on a rebound, and then at 12:32 he redirected a Derek Roy pass into the top corner.
It was the first game back at Scotiabank Place for the Senators following a three-game road trip.
“It was a great ceremony, but I was going to go out and give him the key to Stockholm so he’d go back,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff joked after the game.
Notes: Prior to the game Alfredsson was presented with a custom painting by artist Tony Harris from the Senators organization, a silver puck from Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, and a silver stick from his teammates. He was also awarded two crystal awards from the NHL commemorating his 1,000th game and 600th assist. …Alfredsson has scored 20 or more goals in 10 straight seasons. …Alfredsson scored the first playoff goal in Senators history in 1997 against the Sabres. …The Sabres are the last NHL team this season to remain unbeaten (30-0-0) when leading after two periods. …There have been 151 coaching changes in the NHL since Lindy Ruff was named Buffalo’s head coach on July 21, 1997.