BUFFALO, N.Y. – Not long after the Sabres were cheered off the ice, defenceman Craig Rivet’s thoughts quickly went to the those affected by a horrific plane crash.
On a night when hockey was most decidedly secondary, Rivet had three assists against his former team in Buffalo’s dramatic 6-5 shootout win over San Jose on Friday.
But that did little to ease the emotions weighing on a community left reeling a day after 50 people died when a commuter plane struck a house just outside of town.
“Obviously, it’s been a real tough day for all of Buffalo,” Rivet said. “Tonight, I’m proud of our guys.”
In a game that began with a moment of silence and ended with a standing ovation, the Sabres provided their fans a small diversion. Jason Pominville snapped a 17-game goal drought by deflecting in Rivet’s point shot to force overtime with four seconds left. Buffalo then pulled out the win on Derek Roy’s deciding shootout goal.
“We needed it for our fans,” said coach Lindy Ruff, who lives in the area where Continental Connection Flight 3407 went down in Clarence. “A lot of good things happened in the game and I’d like to leave it at that.”
Pominville, Roy and Ales Kotalik had a goal and ab assist each in a game the Sabres rallied back after squandering a 4-1 lead. Jaroslav Spacek and Adam Mair also scored for the Sabres who, with 64 points, are tied with Florida for seventh place in the tightly contested Eastern Conference playoff race.
Joe Thornton had four assists, and Patrick Marleau scored twice for the Western Conference-leading Sharks, 1-0-3 on a five-game trip that ends Sunday in New Jersey. Dan Boyle had a goal and assist while Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi also scored for San Jose.
The back-and-forth game wasn’t decided until after the fifth round of the shootout.
Roy gave the Sabres the edge when he drove in on Evgeni Nabokov and flipped a backhander that beat the goalie on the short side.
Ryan Miller then sealed the win by making a sprawling save, getting his glove out at the last second to snag Milan Michalek’s snap shot from in close.
The Sharks couldn’t help but be affected by the news of the crash that dominated headlines and television broadcasts throughout the day.
“The community is in mourning right now,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “It was an entertaining game. Anybody who came here probably got their mind off very serious issues.”
The Sabres jumped to a 3-0 lead 14:21 in when Roy scored on a snap shot from the right circle on a play he started when he stripped Thornton of the puck in the neutral zone.
San Jose found its groove behind Thornton, who had a hand in the team’s first four goals, and nearly matched the five points (a goal and four assists) he managed in his previous nine games.
Thornton played a particularly significant role on Setoguchi’s power-play goal that tied it at 4 at the 6:19 mark of the third period. Controlling the puck behind the Sabres net, Thornton burst free after Andrej Sekera lost control of his stick. He fed Boyle in the right circle, who sent a pass through the middle to Setoguchi, who one-timed it in the open side.
Pavelski then put the Sharks up 5-4 with 9:46 left. Sidestepping both Mair and defenceman Chris Butler at the right boards, Pavelski snapped a shot over Miller’s left shoulder.
“The slow start kind of hurt us,” Thornton said. “Once this team turns it on, it’s pretty hard to stop. But we have to do it for 60 minutes.”
The Sabres lacked consistency, too, but at least they rediscovered their power play. After going 1-of-12 on the power play in a 3-1 loss to Ottawa on Wednesday night, Buffalo converted its first three chances and finished 3-of-6.
“It felt good to get some points against one of the best teams in the league,” said Miller, who stopped 34 shots, including four in the shootout. “It was big for us. It’s not going to be a fairy-tale every night.”
Notes: Roy and linemate Drew Stafford shared a double-century milestone in producing the Sabres’ third goal. For Roy, it was the 100th goal of his career, while Stafford’s assist was his 100th career point. … Sharks C Marcel Goc was placed on injured reserve because of a lower-body injury. He was hurt in a 5-2 win at Boston on Tuesday. … Sekera returned after missing 12 games because of an ankle injury.