BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - A fast start, a few opportune bounces and rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski’s shutout performance allowed the Montreal Canadiens to avoid needing any late-game dramatics on consecutive nights.
“It felt pretty good. I’m not going to lie,” Tokarski said. “The main thing is the two points going down the stretch here for this hockey team, and just a little icing on the cake with the shutout, I guess.”
The shutout was certainly timely for a Canadiens team coming off an emotional high following a 5-4 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. It was a game in which Montreal became the NHL’s first team to win by overcoming a three-goal deficit with less than five minutes remaining.
“Every time you play an emotional game, as a coach you’re always afraid that the next game could be tougher,” coach Michel Therrien said. “But we got a really good start, and this is something we’ve been doing lately.”
Brendan Gallagher and Dale Weise scored 1:26 apart in the first period, both coming off pucks that caromed into the net. Weise opened the scoring when a rebound banked in off his skate. Gallagher’s goal came on a rebound that caromed in off the leg of Sabres defenseman Chad Ruhwedel.
Montreal (37-25-7) vaulted into second place in the Atlantic Division by jumping ahead of Toronto and Tampa Bay.
The league-worst Sabres (19-41-8) continue heading in reverse, having lost six straight in regulation - their worst streak since losing seven in a row from Dec. 4-19, 2003.
And they’ve lost another goalie to injury after starter Jhonas Enroth did not return following a collision with Gallagher with 3:51 left in the second period.
Referring to it as a lower-body injury, coach Ted Nolan said Enroth could be out indefinitely.
“It doesn’t look like it’s going to be short-term,” Nolan said. “It seems like we have bad luck, or we have no luck at all.”
Gallagher was driving to the net from the left circle and got a shot off when he was struck from behind by Buffalo defenseman Jamie McBain and tumbled directly into Enroth. The goalie lay on the ice for a few minutes before he got up and attempted to stretch his right leg while being examined by a trainer. Enroth then skated to the bench and was escorted into the locker room.
Rookie Nathan Lieuwen was forced into action, and stopped all 10 shots he faced in his NHL debut. Lieuwen was called up from AHL Rochester earlier in the day after backup Michal Neuvirth complained of a lower body injury before Buffalo’s 4-1 loss at the New York Islanders on Saturday.
That leaves the Sabres in a position of calling up Matt Hackett from Rochester before embarking on a five-game road trip that opens at Calgary on Tuesday.
Lieuwen was playing on his third consecutive day after stopping 31 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss to Binghamton on Friday, and another 38 in a 2-1 loss to Binghamton on Saturday.
“It was all adrenaline,” Lieuwen said. “How I played the two nights before really did help. As soon as the faceoff started, it was like I was in a game again, and I could focus in.”
His best save came with 10:25 left, when he lunged from his crease and got his blocker up to turn aside former Sabres player Thomas Vanek’s one-timer from the slot.
Tokarski started in place of Carey Price, who didn’t travel with the team. Therrien was wary of playing Price on consecutive nights after the goalie aggravated a lower-body injury during Canada’s gold-medal run at the Sochi Games.
Tokarski was sharp in the opening frame, when he turned aside Drew Stafford’s backhander in front. He was also fortunate with 12:47 left in the third period, when Stafford had a shot go off the right post.
The Sabres continue to struggle generating offense. They’ve managed a league-worst 132 this season, and have scored just five in their past six games.
NOTES: Vanek played his first game at Buffalo since the Sabres traded him to the New York Islanders in October. The Canadiens acquired Vanek in a deal with the Isles two weeks ago. Vanek drew a standing ovation during a first-period break, after the Sabres broadcast a series of highlights on their videoboard. … Buffalo will close the season playing 10 of its final 14 games on the road. … Nolan expects C Torrey Mitchell to be ready to return Tuesday, after missing his sixth game with a lower body injury.
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