BUFFALO, N.Y. – Nathan Gerbe paid a perfect tribute to Buffalo Sabres great Rick Martin.
Just hours after Martin died in a one-car accident, the Sabres beat the Ottawa Senators 6-4 on Sunday. Gerbe provided insurance late in the second period by scoring with a Martin-esque slapshot from the left circle that put Buffalo in front 5-3.
“That was a mirror image,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “You don’t see those very often. As soon as it went in, I thought it was vintage Richard Martin right there.”
Every Sabres player wore a helmet sticker featuring Martin’s name, his uniform No. 7, and a fleur-de-lis. The coaching staff wore the sticker on their lapels.
“I was just trying to get it off as quick as possible,” Gerbe said of his goal. “I’ve only heard good things about (Martin). It’s a huge loss for the Sabre family.”
When the game ended, the team assembled in the centre faceoff circle and pointed their sticks upward to Martin’s retired jersey banner. It hangs alongside those of his French Connection linemates, Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert.
“Unfortunately Rick’s life is no longer,” said Rip Simonick, who has been the Sabres’ equipment manager since the club’s inception. “We’ll have to move on. I’m sure he would’ve been proud and smiling that the Sabres won.”
In the third period, with the Sabres already having scored six times, fans who remembered Martin’s performances were counting up the goals and chanting emphatically for a seventh.
“That would have been very nice,” Gerbe said. “We heard them and wanted to get it. Obviously, just getting the win was huge.”
A pair of rookies played key roles. Tyler Ennis scored twice and Jhonas Enroth made 34 saves in the win, which moved Buffalo into seventh place in the Eastern Conference, tying the idle New York Rangers. Carolina and Toronto are four and six points back, respectively.
Thomas Vanek and Paul Gaustad both had a goal and an assist, and Brad Boyes also scored. Mike Weber had a career-high three assists.
Jason Spezza scored twice and had two assists for Ottawa, which went 3-1 on its four-game road trip but couldn’t match a season-best, four-game winning streak. Colin Greening and Erik Karlsson also scored for the Senators.
“It was a really good road trip,” said Senators coach Cory Clouston, whose team had won 2-1 in each of the previous three games. “(This) wasn’t a bad game. We didn’t get outworked. We didn’t get outchanced. We just weren’t as good as we needed to be in front of our net. Four goals should get you the win.”
Buffalo returned home following a 4-2-1 road trip that ended with a 4-3 loss in Toronto on Saturday. The Sabres squandered a third-period lead in that one.
“We were a tired team,” Ruff said. “(We) were able to dig in. In some strange way, (Martin’s death) pushed us even harder.”
The Sabres scored twice in a 33-second span early in the second period to take a 4-2 lead and send goalie Craig Anderson to the bench. Anderson stopped 13 of 17 shots, and backup Curtis McElhinney made 14 saves.
Ennis scored 97 seconds into the second period, breaking a 2-2 tie on a sharp wrist shot from the right circle. Gaustad then banged away at a rebound to give Buffalo a two-goal cushion.
Spezza got the Senators closer midway through the frame when he banked in a shot from behind the net off goalie Jhonas Enroth for his second goal. It was Spezza’s second multigoal game of the season and first since Nov. 9 against Atlanta.
Gerbe then connected on his slapshot with 5:26 left in the period.
Boyes pushed the lead to three in the third period while trying to deliver a backhanded pass from the left circle to Jason Pominville, who was ready for an easy tap-in. The puck crossed the goal line before Pominville made contact.
Notes: Buffalo went 5-1 in closing its season series against Ottawa. … C Jochen Hecht, who played for the first time in five games on Saturday, left after two periods with the same upper body injury and will be re-evaluated Monday. … Gaustad came back from a one-game injury absence. RWs Drew Stafford and Patrick Kaleta remained out with lower body injuries. … Ottawa netted a power-play goal for a third straight game, the third time this season it has posted a streak of that length. … Buffalo will be home for six of its next eight. … Spezza has scored in back-to-back games for the second time this season. … The Sabres have scored first in five straight games and 10 of 11.