OTTAWA – With his team’s season on the line, Lindy Ruff couldn’t watch.
The Buffalo coach missed Jason Pominville and Derek Roy scoring in a shootout in a as the Sabres beat the Ottawa Senators 4-3 Thursday to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. “That was the first time,” said Ruff of his decision to pass on watching. “I just asked if it went in.”
It did, and the Sabres halted a two-game losing streak to find themselves five points behind Boston and Philadelphia for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Maxim Afinogenov, Jochen Hecht and Paul Gaustad – forcing overtime with a goal under two minutes left in regulation – also scored for the Sabres.
Roy, an Ottawa native, also had two assists in regulation to help the Sabres avenge a crushing 6-3 to the Senators in Buffalo on Tuesday.
“To hear a couple of boos in the crowd was pretty interesting,” said Roy, who has 13 points in his last seven games. “Every game is crucial and we can’t take one off.”
Ottawa is four points back of idle Montreal for the Northeast division lead with four games remaining.
Buffalo needed to respond after Froday’s big loss, when the Sabres gave up five goals in an eight-minute span of the third period.
“It was a devastating loss the other night,” said Ruff, after the Sabres surrendered five goals in eight minutes of the third period to see a 3-1 lead vanish. “We had to be able to pick ourselves up.
“It would have been easy to watch the wind go out of the sails”.
Mike Fisher scored twice in regulation to break out of a scoring slump and Jason Spezza scored in regulation and the shootout for Ottawa. Antoine Vermette and Andrej Meszaros each finished with a pair of assists.
Ryan Miller made 25 saves following his 30th straight start and career-best 72nd game of the season, to tie the Sabres all-time single-season record.
The Sabres outshot Ottawa 28-17 after two periods and 40-28 for the game. Martin Gerber, making his 13th straight start, failed to win his 100th career NHL game.
“Lately if it is not one thing it is another,” said Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, who logged 21 minutes with a pair of blocked shots. “There are a lot of things we need to be a lot better at”.
Spezza opened the scoring with his 33rd of the season at 7:35 of the first period, beating Miller inside the left post with a soft wrist shot off a end-to-end rush.
Buffalo then responded with two goals in 4:15. Afinogenov solved Gerber from his knees less than minute after Spezza’s goal as Ottawa failed to clear the puck from their zone. Hecht then converted Jason Pominville’s point-shot for a power-play goal at 12:45 off more suspect defensive play and the Sabres led 2-1 after one period.
Fisher scored just his third goal in 29 games after successfully working a give-and-go with Antoine Vermette to tie the game 2-2 before tapping in his second goal at 3:58 of the third period.
“It’s been a rough go lately around the net,” said Fisher. “I am trying to stay mentally tough and work through it.”
Ottawa, which finished the season series 5-2-1 against the Sabres, has four games left – a pair against the Bruins, and one each against the Canadiens and Maple Leafs.
The Sabres have five games left, including a pair against the Canadiens.
NOTES: Senators left wing Cory Stillman sustained a leg injury in the first period and did not return … The Senators assured rookie defenceman Brian Lee, who made his NHL debut Tuesday at Buffalo, that he will remain with the team for the rest of the regular season rather than face a demotion to the American League… Lee, Ottawa’s ninth overall pick in 2005 who turned 21 on Wednesday, broke into the lineup following a knee injury to Wade Redden, who missed a second straight game …Lee’s parents Rich and Carol drove to Ottawa from Minnesota to watch his NHL home debut Ottawa F Jesse Winchester, 24, is waiting to make his NHL debut after the former NCAA star with Colgate signed with the Senators on Monday. ..Senators blue-liner Luke Richardson, an Ottawa native playing in his 21st season with his sixth team, celebrated his 39th birthday on Wednesday.