BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Sabres defenseman Mike Weber struggled to gather his thoughts after watching his home fans cheer Arizona’s game-winning goal in overtime.
“I’ve never been a part of that,” Weber said. “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I guess. But this is a whole new low right now.”
Sam Gagner scored 56 seconds into overtime to lift the Coyotes to a 4-3 win Thursday night, earning cheers from last-place Buffalo’s fans hoping to get the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL Draft.
“I’ve always spoken extremely high of our fans,” he said. “I don’t even know if disappointed is the word.
“They scored the first one, our fans are cheering. Late penalty, they cheer. They cheer when they score to win the game. I don’t even know what to say. It’s extremely frustrating for us.”
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jordan Szwarz and David Moss scored in regulation for Arizona, which has won consecutive games for just the second time in 2015.
And the 29th-place Coyotes moved six points ahead of the Sabres, delighting the home crowd clamoring for the best odds at the top pick.
Tyler Ennis, Brian Gionta and Rasmus Ristolainen scored in the Sabres’ fourth-consecutive loss. It’s the seventh time this season Buffalo has a skid of at least four games.
To have the home crowd cheering for his Coyotes was an odd feeling for Ekman-Larsson.
“It was weird,” said Ekman-Larsson, who also had an assist. “We just tried to stay focused on what we had to do tonight and I thought we did a good job of that.”
Ekman-Larsson’s 21 goals lead all NHL defenseman and broke a record he shared by Nicklas Lidstrom and two others for goals in a season by a Swedish blue-liner.
“He was my idol growing up,” Ekman-Larsson said of Lidstrom. “That’s pretty special and it’s fun.”
The question around Buffalo before the game was how the crowd would react to a matchup of two of the three teams perceived to be competing for the best odds of landing the No. 1 pick in June.
The team with the worst overall record will be guaranteed to land one of two prospects considered to be generational talents: OHL Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and American-born Boston University center Jack Eichel.
Losing goaltender Matt Hackett didn’t want to talk about the fans cheering for Arizona. Sabres head coach Ted Nolan claimed he didn’t notice the reception.
“I’m never going to complain about the fans in this city,” Nolan said. “We got 19,000 on a regular basis. I didn’t hear what happened at the end. I was just focused on the game.”
After a tepid start, Szwarz enlivened an otherwise quiet crowd when the Sabres let him skate into the circle for a point-blank shot on Hackett. His high snap shot beat the Sabres’ goalie to give Arizona a 1-0 lead at 7:55 of the first period.
The home fans openly cheered the Coyotes’ goal, which was only missing the celebratory goal horn that accompanies a Sabres goal. Also audible, though, was a late round of boos, presumably for the fans cheering the visitors’ goal.
A little less than 3 minutes later, Buffalo completed a pretty passing play from Moulson to Ennis. The diminutive winger shifted away from Mike Smith’s poke check to slide the puck into the goal and tie the score and draw a louder cheer.
Ristolainen gave the Sabres their first lead with a power-play goal at 8:37 of the second. His hard, rising slap shot was aided by a deflection off Moss and beat Smith over his left shoulder.
Arizona tied it up on Ekman-Larsson’s point shot through traffic with 8:31 left in the period, causing another loud round of cheering to be met by boos.
A deflected goal by Moss with 5:40 left restored Arizona’s lead. It was reviewed since Moss’ stick was near shoulder level when he redirected Gagner’s shot past Hackett. Several fans cheered the announcement of the upheld goal, too.
Buffalo picked up a late power play when Connor Murphy interfered with Marcus Foligno, and Gionta took a low slap shot from the slot that beat Smith five-hole to tie the score with 3:37 remaining.
In overtime, Gagner’s shot from the left half-wall beat Hackett along the ice to give Arizona the win.
“I was just trying to get a puck through,” Gagner said. “We weren’t getting enough pucks to the net. That was my only thought.”
The Coyotes outshot Buffalo 42-35.
“It was a big win for us in Detroit and to come in here and follow it up with another win, it’s what you play for,” Gagner said.
NOTES: Bogosian and RW Patrick Kaleta both returned from lengthy injury absences. … Buffalo’s Jerry D’Amigo underwent facial surgery for a high-stick from Nashville’s Craig Smith on Saturday. Nolan says D’Amigo is out for the remainder of the season. … Ennis suffered an upper body injury in the third period and did not return.
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