BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With a flick of his wrist in overtime, Christopher Higgins capped the Montreal Canadiens' three-goal comeback and dealt the stunned Buffalo Sabres a near finishing blow to their playoff hopes.
Higgins, though, wasn't thinking about the big-picture implications following a 4-3 victory that put Montreal back atop the Eastern Conference standings, a point ahead of idle Pittsburgh.
What satisfied Higgins is how he made up for missing on a wide-open breakaway that could have put the Canadiens ahead early in the third period.
"I felt pretty bad about that," said Higgins, who had his initial shot stopped by Ryan Miller's blocker, and then stuffed the rebound attempt into the goalie's pads. "To have that opportunity and let everybody down, I was glad I was able to come through in overtime. ... I was pretty pumped."
In a game the Canadiens initially had no business being in and trailed 3-1 with less than three minutes left, Higgins emerged as the star, scoring 3:38 into the extra frame. Parked at the left post, Higgins easily redirected Mark Streit's pass from the right circle.
Credit Tomas Plekanec, too, for rallying the Canadiens back with two goals in a span of 2:16, including the tying goal with 15 seconds left.
"It's a huge two points for us," Plekanec said. "We didn't play well, but we showed some character in the end."
The Sabres, meanwhile, continue to show little resemblance of a team that won the Presidents' Trophy a year ago. Depleted of its leaders, after losing co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency in July, the Sabres are unraveling down the stretch.
In blowing a 3-1 third-period lead for the second consecutive home game, Buffalo inched closer to being eliminated in the East playoff race. With four games left, the Sabres are stuck in 10th place, four points back of eighth-place Boston and the postseason cutoff in the East.
"Giving up those leads, we've got to learn," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said, referring to Buffalo also blowing a 3-1 third-period lead in a loss to Ottawa on Tuesday. "There's not a lot of learning time left, but you have to learn from it. It's painful and you've got to move on."
The Sabres seemed in full control when defenseman Nathan Paetsch, with his first goal in 47 games, and Daniel Paille scored less than two minutes apart to put Buffalo up 3-1 with 12:45 left in regulation.
Back came the Canadiens, who had seemed lifeless and disinterested for most of the game, and had managed just 10 shots through 34 minutes.
Plekanec cut the lead to 3-2, deflecting in Streit's shot from inside the blue line with 2:31 remaining. The tying goal came with Montreal's net empty, and was set up by Streit, who finished with three assists.
Streit's shot from the blue line hit defender Henrik Tallinder in front, and the puck dropped in the slot, where Plekanec reached back and swept it through Miller's legs.
"We should've been able to hold them off, but they got some breaks," Paille said. "Points are tough to come by, especially with four games to play. It's something we don't need right now."
The loss spoiled what had been a relatively solid outing by Miller, who finished with 25 saves and set the Sabres' single-season record by making his 73rd appearance
"This means a lot, it's a good learning experience for us," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said, noting his team came out too relaxed after clinching a playoff berth earlier this week. "We just kind of showed up. We didn't respond, but sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and we took advantage of it in the last minutes."
Alex Kovalev also scored for Montreal. Drew Stafford added a goal for Buffalo.
Sabres forward Steve Bernier left the game with under 4 minutes left after crashing into the end boards while attempting to check Streit. Ruff described the injury as a bruised hip.
|Christopher Higgins is pumped after delivering Montreal's winning goal in overtime. (Getty Images)|
|Montreal (44-24-10) «||0||1||2||1||4|
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|02:25||Drew Stafford (16), Tip-In. Assist: Derek Roy, Andrej Sekera|
|19:23||Alexei Kovalev (34), Wrist Shot. Assist: Mikhail Grabovski, Francis Bouillon|
|05:30||Nathan Paetsch (2), Wrist Shot. Assist: Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek|
|07:15||Daniel Paille (19), Slap Shot. Assist: Jason Pominville|
|17:29||Power Play - Tomas Plekanec (28), Tip-In. Assist: Mark Streit, Alexei Kovalev|
|19:45||Tomas Plekanec (29), Tip-In. Assist: Mark Streit, Andrei Kostitsyn|
|03:38||Christopher Higgins (24), Tip-In. Assist: Mark Streit, Saku Koivu|
|08:57||Kostitsyn, 2 min, Slashing|
|11:51||Markov, 2 min, Roughing|
|03:35||Ryder, 2 min, Interference|
|07:01||Begin, 2 min, Bench - Too Many Men on the Ice|
|07:08||Sekera, 2 min, Closing Hand on Puck|
|08:42||Kovalev, 2 min, Holding the Stick|
|12:51||Vanek, 2 min, Interference|
|16:16||Kotalik, 2 min, Tripping|
|Shots On Goal|
|Power Play Conversions|
|Attendance - 18690|
|Referees - Mike Hasenfratz, Tom Kowal|
|Linesmen - Brad Kovachik, Steve Miller|