Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
There's a good feeling about the Buffalo Sabres right now as the team is really starting to find their stride. It began in the first period in Pittsburgh on Tuesday as the Sabres blitzed the Penguins for three first period goals. On Thursday they manhandled the Mike Babcock-coached Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 and last night under the bright lights of Madison Square Gardens they jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the NY Rangers only :46 into the second period.
The Sabres wound up losing the game against Pittsburgh in the shootout, which many attribute to being a bit young and a little tired as they were on the second game of a back-to-back. The Pens scored four unanswered goals in the second period, including two shorthanded only :24 apart late in the period. They showed plenty of maturity by tying the score, but just couldn't do anything in the shootout.
Last night they got up again as Ryan O'Reilly, who had broken a 24-game goalless drought against Pittsburgh, scored two first period goals to stake the Sabres to a 2-0 lead against the Rangers.
O'Reilly's first goal came off of a hard forecheck by his line, especially rookie Hudson Fasching, as he jumped on an uncharacteristically juicy rebound given up by "King" Henrik Lundqvist. On his second goal, Jack Eichel took a loose puck at the NY blueline and backpedaled the Rangers defense nearly to the goal line before threading a pass to O'Reilly on the weak side. He was so deep in the Rangers zone that he took the pass with his right skate on the goal line and with a quick swat, the left-handed O'Reilly buried it past a sprawling Lundqvist.
After sitting at 17 goals for over two months, O'Reilly has now scored three goals in two games getting him to the 20-goal mark for the second time in his career. He joined Jack Eichel, Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart in the 20-goal club this year and it's the first time the Sabres have had four 20-goal scores in one season since Thomas Vanek (32,) Drew Stafford (31,) Jason Pominville (22,) and Tyler Ennis (20) hit the mark in the 2010-11 season.
According to Sabres PR, O'Reilly, Eichel, Reinhart and Kane, who all whom were 25 yrs. old an younger on February 1, are the youngest quartet of 20-goal scorers since Dave Andreychuk, Phil Houlsey, Christian Ruutu and Ray Sheppard did so in 1987-88.
The Sabres followed the "Pittsburgh plan of attack" and jumped out to a 3-0 lead when Zemgus Girgensons followed his own rebound in the slot and snapped one past Lundqvist just :46 into the second period. The "One who eats lions" took a feed from Johan Larsson and immediately sent a shot to the net which Lundqvist uncharacteristically kicked right back to him. Girgensons hammered it home glove-side to chase "King Henrik" from his crease.
It's not very often that one of the best goaltenders in the game gets pulled, but the Rangers did so last night. According to Larry Brooks of the NY Post it was the fourth-quickest exit of Lundqvist's 11-year career, and the quickest pull since December 30, 2009. An obviously disappointed Lundqvist put the onus upon himself as he told the NY media post-game “I need to be there when we do have breakdowns. I need to come up with that extra save. The first period and the one in the second, I did not."
Lundqvist gave up three goals on only nine shots.
Girgensons told the Buffalo media that the Sabres "gave a push to a really good team" and that he "expected them to give a push back." Which the Rangers did, but were stifled most of the night, especially on a full two-minute 5-on-3 powerplay mid-way through the third period.
With the Sabres up by only one, the defense-pairing of Mark Pysyk and Casey Nelson both went to the box for interference and hooking respectively. Pysyk had given a shot to NY's Eric Staal in front of the Buffalo net knocking him to the ice. Staal writhed in pain while clutching his shoulder all the way to the Rangers bench and it looked as if he was headed to the dressing room for medical attention.
Seconds after the failed two-man advantage expired, Staal was back on the ice, but the Sabres would hold on the rest of the way.
With the way the Sabres were able to jump out to an early 3-0 lead, just like in Pittsburgh, and hold on for the win, unlike in Pittsburgh, the question that arises in the loss to the Penguins is, were the Sabres not on a back-to-back, would they have been able to hold on in that game?
It's getting to look that way as Buffalo's been playing their best hockey of the year lately. They're 4-1-1 in their last six games, 6-2-2 in their last 10 and are within striking distance of .500-mark (points-wise) on the season. It's a far cry from the consecutive last place finishes of the previous two years.
Head coach Dan Bylsma was asked about that last night after the game and he told the media, "I think the level of which we're playing at right now is where we want to be, where we think we can be and we've shown that over a good stretch of hockey."