Sabres Ryan Miller, left, makes a save on Canadiens Mikhail Grabovski. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Don Heupel
BUFFALO, N.Y. - George Gillett walked into the visitors' dressing room at HSBC Arena and whispered to a handful of his Montreal Canadiens players.
"That was a crazy game, I'm proud of you guys," said the Montreal owner. He should be. The dream season for his team added yet another chapter Friday night.
Chris Higgins scored 3:38 into overtime to cap a three-goal, late-game comeback as the Habs stunned the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 in a game that mattered so much more to the host team.
"We showed character," said Tomas Plekanec, whose 28th and 29th goals of the season in the final 2:31 of the third period forced an improbable overtime. "We have to be ready for situations like that in the playoffs. It teaches us yet again that you can't give up and you play the full 60."
If only the Sabres had played a full 60 minutes.
"We played well for 57 minutes and then we got nervous with the puck," said Sabres forward Derek Roy. "I don't know if it's the sign of a young team, but we have to play with confidence the whole game."
The Sabres got a point but they needed two as they try to stay alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They moved to within four points of the eighth and final playoff spot held by Boston with two of their final four regular-season games coming against the Bruins.
"We're just going to stay in the battle," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. "Stranger things have happened. We're going to fight right down to the last minute of the last game."
Defenceman Mark Streit assisted on all three final goals while Alex Kovalev also scored for the Habs, who moved one point ahead of the idle Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Eastern Conference. The surprising Canadiens face the eliminated Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday night.
"We showed by our comeback earlier in the year against the Rangers (erasing a 5-0 deficit) that we can do it," said Kovalev. "We got confidence from that game. Anything is possible."
Drew Stafford, Nathan Paetsch and Daniel Paille scored for the Sabres, who left the ice in disbelief.
Rookie goalie Carey Price gave the Habs a chance, Montreal outshot 38-29 by the desperate Sabres.
"We were a little flat early on but somehow found that jump midway through the third period," said Price. "It just clicked for us."
A scoreless first period didn't feature many scoring chances, the Sabres tentative with so much on the line and the Canadiens rusty after four days off.
Stafford finally opened the scoring 2:25 into the second period, knocking in the rebound of Roy's shot from the slot. That woke up a nervous HSBC Arena crowd of 18,690 that's hoping against hope for its team to sneak into the playoffs.
It should have been 2-0 Sabres with 2:16 left in the middle period but Price absolutely robbed a sure goal from Paul Gaustad with a lightning pad save.
The Habs tied the game 1-1 moments later, with 36.4 seconds remaining, when Kovalev took a give-and-go pass from Mikhail Grabovski and sent a knuckler past Ryan Miller's outstretched glove.
Montreal was lucky to be even on the scoreboard after being outshot 27-13 through 40 minutes - the Sabres using five power plays to Montreal's one to rack up the shots totals.
The third period brought some more entertaining hockey, Higgins sent in alone from centre ice and stopped not once but twice on the rebound as the Canadiens began to apply pressure.
Playoff hope was restored at 5:30 when Paetsch jumped into the attack and flipped a loose puck in the slot over Price's left shoulder to make it 2-1 Sabres, rocking HSBC Arena.
The place was even louder 1:45 later when Jason Pominville's perfect backhand feed from behind the net found Paille, whose blast of a one-timer beat Price glove side and top corner for a 3-1 lead.
The Habs salvaged a game they had no business being in, first cutting the Buffalo lead to 3-2 with a power-play goal 2:31 from the end of the third, Streit's point shot deftly deflected by Plekanec past the glove of Miller.
With Price on the bench for an extra attacker, Plekanec then backhanded a rebound past Miller with only 14.6 seconds left, Sabres fans in disbelief as the game was sent to overtime. There, Streit set up Higgins in front of the net for the tip-in winner, hundreds of Canadiens fans in the building voicing their delirious approval.
"Luckily we played three good minutes to win the game," said Habs head coach Guy Carbonneau.
Notes: The Canadiens revealed the specific nature of defenceman Mike Komisarek's injury before the game, announcing that it was a hip injury. His targeted return date remains the start of the playoffs. Winger Guillaume Latendresse (neck) missed his third consecutive game. He's day to day ... The Sabres remained without defencemen Jaroslav Spacek (chest) and Dmitri Kalinin (shoulder) ... The Sabres host Boston in a huge game Sunday at 6 p.m. ET and close out their regular season next Saturday night at Boston .. Sabres forward Steve Bernier left the game with a bruised hip.