BUFFALO - Defenseman Mark Pysyk's first goal of the season gave the injury-depleted Buffalo Sabres a 2-1 overtime victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night at the First Niagara Center.
It also happened to be one of the strangest scored in the NHL all year.
With the Sabres applying heavy pressure in the Phoenix end with just over a minute to go in the extra session, Pysky directed a shot toward Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith. When going for the rebound, the puck bounced high into the air and Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal whiffed trying to bat it away. It got stuck in the back of Smith's sweater, and when he backed into the net, referees credited the Sabres with the game-winning goal.
The NHL's rule book calls for play to be stopped when referees lose sight of the puck, but the league reviewed the goal and agreed with the on-ice decision. Smith did not.
"I guess if they don't see the puck they're supposed to blow the whistle, but that's not what happened," he said.
The Sabres, who entered the game with an NHL-low 60 goals, will take them any way they come.
"I was up on the wall, sorta getting closed in by the defenseman. I just put it on net, figuring I'd maybe get a rebound," Pysyk said. "Just popped it up right in the air and was lucky enough that he spun and it went right into the net."
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who made 36 saves in the win, said he'd never seen such a play.
"A little unlucky for Smith there," Miller said." I think he'll be shaking his head for a while. Those were the kind of things that weren't happening for us. It's a little bit of a Christmas present for us and we'll take it."
The Sabres won for just the second time in 23 games when trailing entering the third period.
Buffalo tied the game at 1 with 5:59 to go in the third period when Tyler Ennis beat Smith high to the blocker side. Ennis, the Sabres' diminutive center, made up for an earlier miscue when he missed an empty net in the first period after a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play with linemates Zemgus Girgensons and Matt Moulson.
Girgensons kept the puck in the Phoenix zone and picked up the primary assist on Ennis' eighth goal of the season.
The Sabres won despite starting the game with just 16 skaters -- the last time that happened was Jan. 7, 1981, during a 5-1 victory vs. Quebec.
"Short bench, all the penalties we had, it didn't seem like anything in the game was really going our way," Girgensons said. "We just worked probably the hardest we've worked throughout the whole season."
As a result of a flu bug making its way through the Sabres' dressing room, left wingers Linus Omark, Ville Leino and Marcus Foligno were scratched, as was defenseman Alexander Sulzer.
The Sabres' depleted roster took another hit in the second period when right winger Drew Stafford drew a five-minute major and game misconduct for elbowing Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekmund-Larsson with 8:44 rmaining in the second period.
"That was a gutsy performance, for sure," Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said.
After a scoreless first period, the Coyotes struck just 19 seconds into the second period. Hanzal battled for position with Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder and scored his 10th goal of the season by deflecting a point shot from defenseman Connor Murphy past Miller.
The goal stood up after a lengthy video review to determine whether Hanzal's stick was above the cross bar was ruled inconclusive.
"I think Toronto got it absolutely wrong," Miller said.
The review at the end of the game went the other way for the Sabres. Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, however, wouldn't blame the officials.
"Lots of things went wrong," he said. "The game is a very honest game. If you put the work in and you play smart, you play hard, you can usually find a way to win, and there wasn't a lot of that in our game tonight."?
Smith agreed with his coach's assessment.
"That was embarrassing as far as I'm concerned," he said. "I mean, you go into Christmas break, you have three days off and we come out like that? I think that's a bunch of garbage as far as I'm concerned."Follow @SlamSports