Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Might as well get this out of the way first--Jack Eichel was a beast last night.
There were plenty of contributors to Buffalo's 6-3 win over Boston, most notably Ryan O'Reilly, as the Buffalo Sabres stunned TD Garden with five unanswered goals in the third period. But for the 19 yr. old kid from North Chelmsford, MA this night belonged to him.
As mentioned in the previous blog, Eichel looked tired before the Christmas break and probably left more than a few casual observers wondering what all the fuss was about. You could see his speed and could tell that he had loads of talent, but there hadn't been any mind-blowing plays from him since earlier in the season. What was missing from Eichel as he wallowed away still adjusting to the rigors of a full NHL schedule were his breakaway moves. When he's on his game he goes from 0-60 in a few strides and when necessary he hits the nitrous tanks as he goes from overdrive to turbo. That's how he creates space for himself an his linemates.
What's often forgotten is his hockey sense and on-ice awareness. He processes the game at an elite level to the point where his linemates can't keep up with him either physically or mentally. It's something NESN play-by-play man/ultimate Boston homer Jack Edwards gushed about when he put Eichel loosely on the same level as Pele.
"Eichel's vision," began Edwards on the broadcast before qualifying the next part by acknowledging an exaggeration was coming, "sort of reminded me of when Pele came to North American soccer and his teammates would trip over the ball because they weren't expecting the pass. Eichel's vision and his ability to execute is at such an extraordinary level for such a young player."
That was when the Bruins were leading the game 2-1 late in the second period. Eichel had already garnered an secondary assist on the Sabres first goal by Evander Kane and had come from behind to pick-pocket Boston's Brad Marchand who thought he was headed in all alone on a short-handed breakaway.
Eichel would end up adding to that secondary assist in his first-ever four-point game. He was in on three of the Sabres five unanswered goals, all of which came in the second half of the third period. On the game-tying goal just :39 seconds after O'Reilly tied the score, Eichel backed off the defense, and hung on to the puck while Kane crashed the net. Kane did in fact crash and was on his back with stick still in a position to redirect the puck. Eichel sent a pass his way and it glanced into the net off of Boston d-man Kevan Miller's skate.
After Jamie McGinn put the Sabres up by a goal thanks to the strong forecheck of O'Reilly, Eiche sealed the game with an empty-netter with a 155' shot.
With his confidence high and Boston's David Krejci unfamiliar with the quickness and reach of Eichel, his pass along the boards was intercepted. Eichel proceeded to gather the puck on the wall and snap an shot with authority that sailed into the empty Boston net.
For icing on the cake he, McGinn and O'Reilly went in on the forecheck with the two-goal lead and a lengthy tic-tac-toe that went cross-ice and behind the net ended up on O'Reilly's stick and he buried it. Eichel was again the impetus behind the goal as he started the play by streaking up ice to corral a loose puck.
Two goals, two assists, the game's first star and plenty of kudos. "I haven't seen Jack skate that fast yet this year, on the one for the empty net goal," head coach Dan Bylsma told the gathered media post-game. "Haven't seen the smile on his face either with the positive result in the third period.
"I think we’ve seen him come back from that break energized and with a little more jump in his step. You know he’s an excellent, dynamic player, and that’s where he’s got to be night in and night out for us.”
As alluded to earlier, Eichel had a stupendous game, but the team played extremely well and there were some individual performances worth noting as well. O'Reilly's in particular.
With his three-point/plus-2 performance last night O'Reilly added to his team-leading 14 goals and , 18 assists and 32 points. But it's not just the number of points or goals he's scored, it's the timing of them. His first goal of the night brought the Sabres to within one goal after the Bruins took a 3-1 lead early in the third period and he's slowly earning comparisons to a fan-favorite from Buffalo's post-2004 lockout team--Chris "Captain Clutch" Drury.
"We get down by 3-1 and it looks a little daunting," said Bylsma about O'Reilly's goal, "But to get a huge goal by Ryan to get that goal and to get us to [within] one..." Bylsma then shifted to the game-winning goal by McGinn set up by O'Reilly which he termed the "forecheck goal."
"O'Reilly wins the puck for us and goes east/west with it and brings it out to McGinn and gets us a huge goal."
McGinn had yet another great night skating alongside a teammate that stretched back to their days in Colorado. As always he's hard on the puck and constantly drives to the net. Plus he's not afraid to throw around his 6'1" 205 lb. frame, something which comes in handy versus a club like Boston.
It should be noted that the much-maligned Mike Weber was instrumental on O'Reilly's first goal as he got the puck at the point and banked a pass to him on the other side, something that caught the entire Boston team off guard. In 16:55 of ice-time Weber finished with a plus-2 rating joining Eichel and O'Reilly to lead the team last night. He also helped stifle the league's best powerplay as he skated 2:35 on the penalty kill while Boston went scoreless in three powerplays.
A ton of credit needs to go to the line of Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons and Brian Gionta for last night's win as well. Bylsma put the unheralded checking-line trio on the ice whenever a the opportunity for a momentum shift presented itself and they held the fort. Larsson was particularly edgy last night as he was getting under the skin of the Bruins to the point where he drew a roughing call on Boston's Landon Ferraro.
With the B's up 2-1 and the ice decidedly tilted in their favor the that line hit the ice and turned the tide leading to Ferraro's penalty which was behind the play with Boston headed up ice.
Bylsma put that line out immediately after Boston went up 3-1 and they held the Bruins in check and prior to O'Reilly's huge goal they put the pressure on the Bruins and forced them into an icing. O'Reilly, who's second in the league in faceoffs, won the draw and soon the puck was in the net. After Eichel's game-tying goal they were back on the ice to stave off any momentum and three and a half minutes later, McGinn potted the game-winner.
The cumulative stat-line of Larsson, Girgensons and Gionta was zero goals, zero points and an even plus/minus rating. None were on the ice for any of Boston's three goals.
It was a great game for the team as they came from two-goals down in the third period to shock Boston on their home ice. It was a great game for O'Reilly and others, as well as goalie Chad Johnson as they continue to perform well in their roles. But the night belonged to Eichel
"It's exciting to get a win and do it in the fashion we did in front of so many friends and family" said an obviously ecstatic Eichel to the post-game media. "I have a lot of really good memories here and this is another great memory that I'll never forget."