BUFFALO, N.Y. – Adam Mair was glad to help Tim Connolly gain some redemption from an earlier gaffe.
Mair sent the game into overtime just under three minutes after Connolly’s costly turnover ended up in Buffalo’s net, and Connolly scored at 2:31 of overtime in Buffalo’s 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night.
Connolly eventually was able to make for his error that occurred with just under nine minutes to go in the third when his errant pass at the Buffalo blue line was picked off by Philadelphia captain Mike Richards. Richards skated in alone on goalie Ryan Miller, and lifted a backhander in after a nifty deke to give the Flyers a 2-1 edge.
Connolly, though, gave the Sabres the bonus point in overtime when he put home a rebound from in tight off Toni Lydman’s shot from the left circle.
“It was tough but when I got back to the bench, a lot of the guys told me not to worry about it, go out there and we’ll get one back,” Connolly said. “Mair was able to get one back quick, and that gives you a little boost.”
Mair became the unlikely offensive hero for the Sabres (34-20-9), who came in having scored two or fewer goals in nine of their last 13 games. Cruising into the right circle, Mair accepted a pass from Mike Grier before skating across the ice and into the slot, and sent a backhander past goalie Michael Leighton for only his third goal of the season to tie the game at 2-2 with 5:58 to go.
“It’s rebounding from your mistakes, and Tim makes very few of them on the ice,” said Mair, who also added an assist on Thomas Vanek’s second-period goal. “He was able to win the game for us, and that just speaks to his compete and mental ability to put things behind him and look forward.”
The win was much-needed for a slumping Sabres team that leapfrogged over idle Ottawa and back into first place in the Northeast Division. Buffalo leads the Senators by a point, with two games in hand.
“If we keep playing like that, we’re going to have some leads and we’re going to be back to the way we need to be playing,” said Miller, who finished with 27 saves for a Sabres team that won for only the second time in their last 10 games.
Simon Gagne also scored for the Flyers (33-26-4), who’ve lost two straight after stringing together five wins in a row. Leighton finished with 32 saves, but lost for the first time in his last seven starts.
“It was a great game,” Leighton said. “It was back and forth, and kind of like a chess game, waiting for someone to make a mistake. We could have won this game, but it didn’t bounce our way.”
Philadelphia squandered an opportunity to move within four points of Buffalo, which entered the game in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
“You’re up 2-1 with five minutes to go, you need to win that game,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “Michael Leighton did a real good job and gave us an opportunity to win, but it’s frustrating. Points are a hot commodity right now.”
The Flyers struck first when Gagne scored his 10th of the year four minutes into the second period. From in tight, Gagne was able to slip the puck past Miller off a feed from defenceman Lukas Krajicek from the left boards.
Vanek tied it 2:13 later with his team-leading 19th of the season. From the left corner behind the goal line, Vanek was able to bank a shot off Leighton’s blocker and in.
NOTES: Lindy Ruff coached in his 965th career game with the Sabres, moving ahead of Jack Adams (Detroit) for third on the NHL list for games coached with one franchise. … Sabres RW Drew Stafford missed the final two periods because of a groin injury. … LW Raffi Torres played in his first game with the Sabres after being acquired at the trade deadline on Wednesday, and assisted on Connolly’s winner. … Vanek’s goal gave him 300 career NHL points. … Flyers C Jeff Carter played in his 277th straight NHL game, surpassing Bobby Clarke for the franchise’s third-longest ironman streak. He also had his six-game goal scoring streak snapped.