Derek Roy scored nine seconds into the game as the Sabres staved off an NHL playoff sweep with a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night. “It just lifted the spirit of the whole team,” said Roy. Ottawa leads the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final 3-1 and will have a another chance to clinch its first ever berth in the Stanley Cup final in Game 5 on Saturday afternoon in Buffalo. If not then, they’ll be back in Ottawa for Game 6 next Monday.
Maxim Afinogenov and Chris Drury added goals in the second frame as the Sabres got three past Ray Emery on their first 10 shots.
“It was a gutsy effort for us and the gutsy efforts are not going to stop at one – it’s going to keep going,” added Buffalo defenceman Brian Campbell.
Dean McAmmond and Peter Schaefer responded late in the second for Ottawa, but they couldn’t get the equalizer past Ryan Miller. Other than that one brief letdown, Miller had a second straight big game in the Buffalo net as Ottawa outshot the Sabres 33-22.
What remains to be seen is whether it is the start of an improbable comeback by Buffalo and or a brief blip in Ottawa’s surge toward the Stanley Cup final.
The Sabres are trying to become only the third team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series – after the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders.
The early goal drew a gasp from the record Scotiabank Centre crowd of 20,294 and forced the Senators to play catch-up hockey, which led to uncharacteristic mistakes by a team that has played patient hockey throughout the post-season.
“We did things we hadn’t done in the whole series – trying stretch passes and things like that,” said Ottawa coach Bryan Murray. “That was partly from being behind and partly from the way Buffalo played.
“That’s hockey, you do mostly good things and you don’t win. That’s why we play best-of-seven.”
The Senators shut out Buffalo 1-0 in Game 3 on Monday, when all a flat Sabres team could boast of was Miller’s fine play in net and a solid penalty killing effort.
This time, there was more energetic checking and shot-blocking. The Sabres led 18-8 in blocks.
Afinogenov scored on a two-man advantage for Buffalo’s first power-play goal of the series and now it’s Ottawa whose power play has gone cold, not scoring in 12 opportunities in the last two games.
It wasn’t from lack of chances, but the top line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley was shut out, ending their nine-game points streaks.
“It was more a case of us not burying our chances,” said Alfredsson, whose five-game goal-scoring streak died. “We created quite a bit and our power play was better than the last game, but we couldn’t get one.”
The Senators were seeking their first playoff series sweep. Instead, they ended their six-game winning run.
Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff did some line juggling and found a winning combination in Roy, Drury and Tim Connolly.
Off the opening faceoff, Andrei Meszaros’ clearing pass hit Roy’s skate and was kept in at the blue-line by Drury, whose pass was redirected in at the side of the net at the nine-second mark.
It was the fastest playoff goal from the start of a game in Sabres history, beating a Henrik Tallinder goal last year at 33 seconds, but short of the NHL record of six seconds by Dan Kozak of Los Angeles in 1977.
Buffalo took further heart in killing three Senators’ power plays in the period, even if they were outplayed at even strength.
The Sabres got a two-man advantage early in the second frame with Chris Neil and McAmmond off and Afinogenov converted a Daniel Briere pass at the side of the net at 4:32.
Emery was shaky as Drury made it 3-0 with a shot off the rush at 8:06 that found an opening under the goaltender’s arm. It was the Sabres’ co-captain’s 15th career playoff game-winning goal.
“You look at that as one the goalie might want back, but it was a huge goal,” said Ruff.
The Senators looked beat, the crowd quieted, but they came to life when Meszaros’ shot went off a leg to McAmmond for a quick shot inside the near post at 14:55.
Less than two minutes later, with heavy pressure in the Buffalo zone, Schaefer scored his first goal of the playoffs on a blast from the slot off a feed from behind the net by Mike Comrie.
That set the stage for some wild pressure in the third period, particularly during an Ottawa power play in that produced several hot chances but no goals. Drury was on for the entire two-minute penalty kill.
“A the end of the second we could have packed it in and said ‘this is too tough,’ ” said Miller. “But we kept battling.
“I think we did a good job of frustrating them.”
Notes: – Dainius Zubrus, who missed practice Tuesday and the morning skate on Wednesday with a “lower body injury,” was in the Buffalo lineup. Neither team made roster changes. . . Ottawa’s Martin Gerber has a shot at winning a Stanley Cup as a backup goalie for a second straight year. He did it last year playing behind Cam Ward with Carolina.