Thursday, December 17, 2015

Nice to be on the good side of a meltdown in the 3rd

Check out these quotes:

"We've got to work on closing out games."

"It's always tough loss when you are up with five minutes left in a game and they score two. That shouldn't happen."

"We've got to find a way to score the next goal."

Those were the sounds of Brad Richards, Petr Mrazek and Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill, respectively, lamenting one that got away. It was a familiar refrain to Sabres fans as quotes like those were often found emanating from the Sabres locker room over the course of the last two-plus seasons.

After Richards put the Detroit up 1-0 on a set-up from puck-wizard Pavel Datsyuk the Wings had the opportunity to take a 2-0 lead. Mike Weber slashed Tomas Jurco who was going in all alone on Sabres goalie Chad Johnson and the ref awarded Jurco a penalty shot. It was a good thing for Buffalo as Jurco's been struggling. A healthy scratch for 14 games this season, Jurco went in on Johnson and offered up a cupcake which the goalie gloved.

A light chorus of boos rang through "The Joe" as Jurco's weak offering had many fans shaking their heads. "That's weak sauce," said one fan.

Buffalo hung in there and battled into the third and managed to stifle a Wings powerplay six minutes in as Ryan O'Reilly went off for slashing. The call was on a backcheck as Detroit had a 2-on-1 because of a poor pass at the Wings blue line, one of many passes from Buffalo players that was in their skates.

The Buffalo penalty kill  has been strong as of late allowing only three goals on 25 opportunities or an 88% kill rate. Detroit was never able to establish constant pressure and Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma was able to work in three sets of forwards into the first minute of the PK. Killing that off and keeping the score 1-0 opened the door for some O'Reilly heroics as Buffalo finally broke through.

O'Reilly started the play and then finished it with a tip that went five-hole on Mrazek. Don't let anyone every tell you faceoffs aren't' important. With O'Reilly winning the draw the Sabres were able to apply pressure as Mrazek left a juicy rebound on a Sam Reinhart shot. The puck came around the wall to Rasmus Ristolainen who was pinching in on the play and he directed it to Reinhart who came over to cover the point. The rookie sent a low shot to the net which O'Reilly tipped home.

With that goal, O'Reilly extended his point streak to eight games, second longest current streak in the league right now. Ristolainen has also been hot as he now has 10 points (3+7) in his last nine games placing him sixth in the league in scoring amongst defensemen.

It was an upbeat Sabres locker room post-game, but a tired one as well. They battled and battle hard. Bylsma was happy with the win and how they were able to keep plugging away until they finally broke through. "It showed quite a bit of character on our guys' part to stick with it right until the end," said the coach post-game.

"We stuck with it," said Johnson, who stopped 31 of 32 shots and was named the game's first star. "That's a good team (we faced.) They played hard, really well for three periods. We were just sticking to our game, trying to stay with them for the most part."

Speaking of stick-to-itiveness, Johan Larsson, he of the 30-game goalless streak that stretched back to April 6 of last season finally was able to punch one in.

Two Sabres d-men and Larsson's linemate, Zemgus Girgensons were instrumental on the play. Rookie d-man Jake McCabe raced to the Wings blueline to push the puck back into the zone while Girgensons pressured Niklas Kronwall into an ill-advised clearing attempt. Weber hustled to keep the puck in the zone and sent a shot to the net with Girgensons tying up two Wings players. The shot went off a skate right to Larsson in the slot and he in-turn buried it. "It came right to me and I tried to shoot it as quick as I could," said a happy and relieved Larsson.

He and Girgensons had been working it all game as they barreled up ice and were hard on the forecheck. Sabres captain Brian Gionta was a fixture on their line while and while other wingers were worked in on occasion it was Larsson and Girgensons doing a lot of the heavy lifting. "We chip the puck and supported each other well," said Girgensons of the duo. "[Larsson] does a lot of work and is pretty easy play with. We've been creating chances but they haven't been going in so it was nice to get that one."

It was the type of goal that was needed and the type that Bylsma says this team depends upon. "We're not going to get [goals] in a fancy tic-tac-toe-type of way," said Bylsma. "We need to do it in a simple fashion. We need to get it to the offensive zone and sometimes we're gonna have to grind it out to get our opportunities. The opportunities we got tonight were a direct result of that."

Buffalo also had to grind it out late in the game as well as Detroit pulled the goalie with just over two minutes left and applied constant pressure. Bylsma had the Larsson line out their with a one-goal lead late and they were able to close it out thanks to a tremendous save by Johnson.

Detroit's Gustav Nyquist was staring at a gaping net with :16 seconds left but Johnson dove in desperation to get an arm on it. Nearly as important was Larsson on his back with the presence of mind to get his stick on the rebound and send it to center ice.

Bylsma called Johnson's save "dynamic and dramatic save to secure the victory. There was a flurry of shots headed Johnson's during that span some of them grade-A opportunities, but the goalie rose to the task. When I asked him what, if anything was going through is head during that time he replied, "Nothing. I was just trying to make saves."

There's no rest for the Sabres as they get right back at it tonight vs. the NJ Devils at the First Niagara Center. But they'll be headed into the game with some confidence. "Any time you get a win," said Johnson, and I know [Detroit] was on a streak too, it's a big confidence boost for us. We'll enjoy it and move on to the next."

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