MONTREAL – The intensity was there for the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday—but the goals weren’t.
The Canadiens threw 39 shots at Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller but beat him just once, falling 2-1 to their Northeast Division rival.
“I thought we played a solid game. We dictated the game, we played hard, the guys were ready to play,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. “I liked our intensity. We were competing hard to the net and to loose pucks—that’s what you ask from your team. The result wasn’t on our side tonight.”
After a slow start in Tuesday’s meeting against the Sabres, also in Montreal, the Canadiens had their legs moving in the opening period, outshooting Buffalo 13-5. They hit double digits in each period and bombarded Miller with 16 shots in the final frame.
Consecutive shifts early in the game delivered quality opportunities for Montreal (20-6-5) but none found the back of the net.
The Canadiens also had chances late in the first on a delayed penalty call against the Sabres (13-15-4) but were denied by Miller.
“That’s a good team over there. They just keep coming at you,” said winger Thomas Vanek, who had both Buffalo goals. “They’re a good puck possession team but I thought we kept them outside. We could have played a bit more offensively in the third and done some damage ourselves but in the end it’s a win so we’ll take it.”
Vanek broke the 0-0 tie at 10:25 of the second period with Buffalo on a two-man advantage.
Shortly after Mike Blunden was called for interference, defenceman P.K. Subban was whistled for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass. The Canadiens pleaded with the officials that the puck hit the glass on the way out but to no avail.
“It’s bad luck,” Therrien said of the call.
On Tuesday, the Canadiens rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime. This time, they could only manage Michael Ryder’s third period power-play goal.
“It’s very frustrating (to lose a game like that) but we have to find ways to be resilient. We have to find ways to get the two points, even when things maybe aren’t going our way, bounces don’t go our way,” defenceman Josh Gorges said. “We had a good push at the end but we can’t get down 2-0 and hope to climb back every time. We’ve got to try to get the early lead.”
Vanek added his second at 19:21 of the second period when Brendan Gallagher’s stick broke on a pass attempt, leading to a turnover in the Sabres’ favour.
It was the Sabres’ third straight win and pulled the team to within two points of eighth-place Carolina. Prior to Saturday’s tilt, Buffalo hadn’t put together a successful three-game streak since March 19-27, 2012.
“We know we have a long way to go. Any time you can pick up two points and consecutively three games in a row, it feels good. But there’s a lot of work left,” Vanek said of the Sabres, who have played two more games than the Hurricanes. “We’ve just got to pick up points and see what happens at the end. But we need help as well.”
Miller didn’t start in the teams’ last meeting and was pulled in a 6-1 Montreal rout back in early February.
“I was happy with (my game). It’s been a bit of a tough go the last few weeks so I need to start collecting myself and give these guys a chance to get these kinds of wins. They did a nice job of sticking with it, getting to the net and getting the lead,” he said.
His teammates helped make life easier in front of him, blocking 31 shots.
The Canadiens also missed the net 15 times.
“We got a lot of rubber on him but we’ve got to make it difficult for him to see pucks and we’ve got to get on those second and third opportunities,” Gorges said.
Carey Price made 16 saves for Montreal.
NOTES: The Canadiens scratched defenceman Tomas Kaberle (healthy) and forward Ryan White (lower body)…Claimed off waivers from the New York Rangers earlier in the day, centre Jeff Halpern was not in Montreal in time for the game…The Sabres scratched forward Drew Stafford and defenceman John Scott, both healthy, while defenceman Andrej Sekera remained sidelined with an injury…Buffalo clinched the season series with the win and have not lost a season series to Montreal since 2007-08 … Ryder’s goal was his first on Montreal home ice as a Canadien since March 11, 2008.