BUFFALO, N.Y. – Don’t count out the Buffalo Sabres just yet.
Nathan Gerbe scored the decisive shootout goal in the fifth round to cap a 3-2 comeback victory over the Dallas Stars on Friday night.
The Sabres overcame a two-goal, third-period deficit. And after a forgettable and injury-plagued first half of the season, Buffalo’s the healthiest it has been in months, and now on a 5-0-1 roll.
“We need character wins like that, and it’s a big two points for us,” said forward Derek Roy, who forced overtime by scoring with 39 seconds left. “That was a character battle. We’ve just got to keep this thing going. Everybody’s on the same page and we’ve got to keep the momentum going.”
Thomas Vanek, playing his first game after missing three because of an upper-body injury, started the comeback by scoring 5:07 into the third period—and 50 seconds after Tomas Vincour scored to give Dallas a 2-0 lead.
And then came the shootout.
After Buffalo’s Brad Boyes and Dallas’ Jamie Benn traded goals, Gerbe sealed the win by backhanding a shot that struck the post and then caromed in off goalie Kari Lehtonen.
Michael Ryder had a chance to tie it, but shot high and wide while driving in from the left side.
“That was huge. It gives our team some confidence,” Gerbe said. “In order to be a good team, you have to come from behind. It doesn’t matter how much time is left.”
Ryan Miller stopped 24 shots through overtime.
The Sabres are 6-0-4 in their past 10 home games.
Ryder also scored for the Stars, who blew a two-goal lead for the first time this season.
The Stars ran out of gas, playing on back-to-back nights following a 4-2 win at Columbus.
“I think we maybe sat back a little too much in the third and gave them momentum,” Ryder said.
The Stars’ struggles continue in Buffalo, where they now haven’t won in more than 14 years. Dallas dropped to 0-5-2, including a tie, in its past seven trips to Buffalo, with the team’s last regular-season win coming on Oct. 7, 1997.
That drought appeared ready to end 4:17 into the third when Vincour scored to put the Stars up 2-0 after being set up in front by Benn’s backhand pass from behind the net.
The Sabres didn’t let up in a final period in which they outshot the Stars 13-3, even though a large number of fans were on their way out of the building with about 50 seconds left and Buffalo down 2-1.
With Miller pulled for an extra attacker, Paul Gaustad won a faceoff to the right of the Dallas net and drew the puck back to Tyler Myers, who slapped a hard low shot from just inside the blue line. Lehtonen made the initial save, but couldn’t control the rebound, as the puck bounced off Buffalo’s Drew Stafford in front and skipped to Roy, who swept it in the open right side.
“I almost missed it,” said Roy, who scored only his 11th of the season and third in 18 games. “It was a tough one. It almost bounced over my stick. I got enough to get it by. And even if he had put his glove out, I would have jammed it in anyway.”
Lehtonen made some remarkable saves in showing no signs of an illness that had been bothering him this week.
The best came in the final seconds of overtime, when he kicked out his right pad to foil Vanek, who was set up by Christian Ehrhoff’s no-look drop pass.
“Leading until the last minute, we can be happy about that,” said Lehtonen, who stopped 34 shots through overtime. “But we have to be able to close these games. Two points is a lot better than one.”
The Sabres sudden surge is starting to resemble the second half of last season when the team went 29-11-6 to clinch a playoff berth on the final weekend of the regular season.
They still have a mountain to climb as their win over Dallas gave them 54 points to jump them ahead of four teams and into 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings. That still leaves Buffalo (24-24-6) eight points behind Toronto, which currently holds the eighth and final spot.
NOTES: Sabres C Cody McCormick did not return for the start of the second period with what the team called an upper-body injury. … Stars’ D Sheldon Souray didn’t play after being struck by a shot in the foot at Columbus. … The Stars’ regular-season winless drought at Buffalo does not include Dallas winning two of three games at Buffalo in the 1999 Stanley Cup finals, including a 2-1 triple-overtime win the title in Game 6. … Benn played his 200th NHL game.