Buffalo creeps closer

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Sabres 2, Senators (SO) 1

The Senators buckled first when the two top contenders for the Northeast Division crown squared off at HSBC Arena last night.

They managed to get off the mat and grab a point, but they dropped the chance for a second on a knockout punch by Thomas Vanek.

The Sabres left winger scored the only goal of the shootout to send Ottawa home with a 2-1 defeat.

The loss gives the Senators just three of a possible six points in a three-game road trip.

The Senators have now failed to score in their last three shootouts.

Mike Fisher, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson were stoned by Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller in the shootout.

Vanek, who first faked a shot, beat Dominik Hasek high over his left shoulder.

"That's a (crappy) way to lose a good hockey game, I'll tell you that," Senators coach Bryan Murray said. "I thought it was a very good game by two good clubs."

MCGRATTAN FORCED OUT

Heavyweights Brian McGrattan and Andrew Peters went toe-to-toe six minutes into Period 1, and while the Senators tough guy knocked off his opponent's helmet and showed well for himself, he also absorbed a tremendous right from Peters that settled the issue.

McGrattan was unable to return for the rest of the night as he suffered a severely swollen right eye.

The Peters victory looked to give extra fuel to a team that was blown out in three previous games against Ottawa.

But the fact is, this was a much different game than when the Senators' last visited Nov. 2. That score-at-will 10-4 win was dominated by Martin Havlat (four goals) and Ottawa's big line of Alfredsson (four goals, two assists), Heatley (two goals, one assist) and Jason Spezza (four assists).

BIG BOYS BLANKED

Last night, the big guns barely fired.

Through 40 minutes, none of the three offensive stars even had a shot on goal. It wasn't until Spezza tested Miller early in the third that the line registered its first shot.

"I think they did a real good job, period," Murray said when asked if the Sabres' key was the way they checked Ottawa's big line. "It was a playoff type of game."

Said Heatley: "It was just one of those games. It was a tight game out there. The reffing was kind of back to the way it was before. I thought we played well as a group. It was bad ice out there, and they skated well."

The Senators penalty-killing units, which were large all night, rose to a crucial occasion with just over seven minutes to play in the third and Bryan Smolinski heading to the box to serve a slashing penalty.

The Sabres outshot Ottawa 5-1 in the overtime period, with a decent Heatley chance from the side serving as the Senators only test of Miller.

"I thought our defence played as well as it has all year," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, whose team won its fifth in a row. "Every foot of ice out there was contested. It was a great game for us to be in when we were going good."

The Senators survived two short-handed situations but did surrender the only goal of the first when Ales Kotalik blasted his 21st of the year at the 12:11 mark.

Smolinski evened the score for Ottawa near the five-minute mark of the second period, cashing in on some very strong work behind the Buffalo net by noted board man Peter Schaefer.

With the Sabres having just killed a penalty, Schaefer chased the puck behind the net with two Sabres and came up with it. As Miller expected it to pop out one side, Schaefer slid it to Smolinski at the other, allowing the veteran to score his 11th of the season into an empty half cage.

don.brennan@ott.sunpub.com


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