Fourth-line winger Oleg Saprykin scored 7:41 into the third period Thursday night to lift the Senators to a 5-2 win over the Sabres in Game 1 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference final.
Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Dean McAmmond also scored while Jason Spezza had two assists for the red-hot Senators, who lost last year’s first game to the Sabres en route to a five-game series exit.
Toni Lydman and Maxim Afinogenov replied for the Sabres, who are 1-13 all-time in best-of-seven series after dropping Game 1 – their lone series win against Ottawa in 1997.
Game 2 goes in Buffalo Saturday night (8 p.m. ET) and fans can only hope they once again get what they witnessed in Game 1, big hits, great passing and solid goaltending – hockey at its best.
As expected the Sabres’ shutdown defence pair of Lydman and Henrik Tallinder drew the assignment of trying to stop Spezza’s top line with Alfredsson and Heatley, and while the Senators trio didn’t score 5-on-5 they certainly had their fair share of chances. The Sabres, who also put Chris Drury’s line against Spezza, must find a way to better minimize the Sens’ stars.
The Sabres also continued to struggle on the power play, going 0-for-5 on the night, while the Senators were 2-for-6. Buffalo must find a way to break through with the man advantage or this series will be a short one.
Buffalo was also guilty of committing twice as many giveaways as Ottawa, another recipe for disaster against the Senators’ counter-attack game.
Sens goalie Ray Emery is public enemy No. 1 here ever since he beat up former Sabres goalie Martin Biron during a brawl in February. And the crowd wasted no time in mockingly chanting, “Emery, Emery,” after he juggled an easy shot early in the game.
But the Senators quieted the crowd by taking a 2-0 lead, Fisher beating Ryan Miller five-hole on a short-handed breakaway 4:32 into the game, Sabres defenceman Dmitri Kalinin coughing it up at the Ottawa blue-line, and Alfredsson blasting a one-timer from the point at 7:54 on a 4-on-3 power play.
The nervous tension in the building gave way to cheers when Afinogenov cut into the lead at 10:55, slamming it home from the side of the net after a juicy rebound from Emery.
Lydman had 18,690 fans at HSBC Arena rocking again at 8:45 in the second period, skating out from the corner a la Jean Beliveau and stuffing it five-hole.
It was 2-2 through 40 minutes but the Senators deserved a better fate, outshooting the Sabres 24-15 but frustrated by several point-blank saves from Miller, including a huge one off Heatley during a Senators power play.
Heatley was absolutely robbed again one minute into the third period, Miller’s pad save keeping it 2-2. Emery showed he was no slouch, stopping Adam Mair from in-close four minutes later.
Ottawa’s fourth line then broke though for the winner, Saprykin deftly re-directing a pass from the sideboards by McAmmond at 7:41 to give the Senators a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.
Alfredsson nearly doubled his team’s lead on the next shift, hitting the outside of the post with a powerful wrist shot.
Heatley made it 4-2 on the power play with 4:12 left in the game, slipping a rebound from the slot past Miller.
McAmmond added the empty-netter with 13 seconds left in regulation.
Notes Forward Patrick Eaves (head) remained out for the Senators while tough guy Brian McGrattan and defenceman Lawrence Nycholat were the other notable scratches … Forwards Drew Stafford and Daniel Paille and tough guy Andrew Peters were healthy scratches for the Sabres … Buffalo won Game 1 in Ottawa last spring, 7-6 in overtime … The Senators won five of eight regular-season games between the two clubs this year.