BUFFALO — If Friday night at HSBC Arena was a playoff preview, the Senators will take their chances.
The Senators rode the 41-save performance of goalie Brian Elliott to a 4-2 victory — their ninth straight over the Sabres.
The Senators, who got a goal and an assist apiece from Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Kelly, moved within five points of Buffalo for the top spot in the Northeast Division. The Sabres hold two games in hand on Ottawa, which has seven to play.
Elliott, who improved his record vs. Buffalo to 8-0, saw his shutout streak end at 174:35 — just a tad shy of 10 minutes off the franchise record set in 2003 by Patrick Lalime (184:06), now Ryan Miller’s backup with the Sabres.
Elliott said he wasn’t thinking about the shutout string.
“What streak, is the answer. This streak of winning is still going and that’s what matters. Nothing else matters,” said Elliott.
The Senators haven’t lost to Buffalo since Jan. 6, 2009. While Miller is having an MVP season, Ottawa has found a way to beat him.
Still, this one was a nailbiter. Jason Pominville scored at 1:34 of the third to pull Buffalo to within a goal. At 10:10 of the period, Thomas Vanek fired a blast on a breakaway that hit the post behind Elliott.
After Ottawa built a 2-0 lead on goals by Kelly and Peter Regin, Elliott saw his streak end at 10:52 of the second period on the Sabres’ 27th shot as an attempted pass by Paul Gaustad bounced off Tim Kennedy’s skate and by Elliott.
“These are three really huge games for us. (Elliott) has really stepped up and played phenomenal,” said Spezza. “He’s a huge reason why we’re winning. He’s making all the saves he has to make.
“Everybody is playing the same way with playoff-style hockey. That will bring us success in the post-season.”
The Senators restored their two-goal lead minutes later when Alfredsson’s shot from the point on the power play was tipped home by Spezza at 14:03. It was Spezza’s 20th goal of the season.
The Senators were forced to play most of the game without centre Mike Fisher, who was given a five-minute boarding major and a game misconduct 15:32 after knocking winger Patrick Kaleta into the boards behind the Sabres net.
“I didn’t touch him. He should be playing soccer,” said Fisher. “I’m not going to criticize. It’s a tough call to make if you’re a ways away. I saw the replay and it was definitely a dive. He embarrassed himself.
“I knew right away because (the Sabres) weren’t concerned and they were laughing because they knew what happened.”
Former Sabres winger Matthew Barnaby, working the TSN telecast, agreed with Fisher.
“(Kaleta) knew he was falling from behind and he just dives into the corner,” said Barnaby. “I was that No. 36 for the Buffalo Sabres doing the exact same play. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. This time it did.”
Elliott, who was coming off a pair of 2-0 shutouts earlier in the week, was sharp in the first. He made 17 stops with plenty of pressure from the Sabres, who came out hard trying to break the hex against the Senators.
It was Kelly who opened the scoring for the second straight game with his 15th of the season to tie a career-high he set in 2006-07.
Going to the net, Kelly tipped a pass out of the air from Jarkko Ruutu that Miller stopped, but he was able to jam his own rebound into the net at 6:42.
The officials were forced to review at the goal because the net came off the moorings. But after taking a second look, it was ruled the puck crossed the line before net was dislodged.