Thursday, November 3, 2016

Three in a row for Buffalo after a hard-earned win in Minnesota

Published by, 11-2-2016

Buffalo Sabres forward Sam Reinhart was getting thumped all game last night, at one point being laid upon in the blue paint by Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk who was unabashed about having a foreigner crash into him. Even though it wasn't Reinhart's fault. Sabres d-man Rasmus Ristolainen took an inadvertent elbow to the nose late in the game after he blasted Wild forward Mikael Granlund into the boards behind the Buffalo net. Ristolainen went to the bench, but the trainers couldn't stop the bleeding in time for him to get back on the ice after a Minnesota time out.

Sabres forwards Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson never left the ice for the final 2:34 of the third period with Dubnyk pulled for the extra attacker. Defenseman Josh Gorges was on for the final 1:50 and Ristolainen would have had the same but he was replaced by Dmitry Kulikov who skated the final 1:10. Not because they wanted to be out there the entire time, but because circumstance lead to extended shifts.

During that last 2:34 the forwards were on the ice there were three icings, two timeouts, a number of faceoffs and bodies colliding all over the place, but in the end the Sabres held on for a 2-1 victory. Those on the ice for Buffalo were so weary that they had to catch their breath before congratulating goalie Robin Lehner who was close by in his crease as fatigued as them.

In the end Buffalo came away with their second win in a row on this quick two-game road trip after defeating the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 on Sunday afternoon. The Sabres started this three-game winning streak by shutting out the Florida Panthers at KeyBank Center 3-0 in a Saturday matinee.

Three games, eight goals-for, two goals-against and six points in the books for the 4-3-2 Sabres.

The streak and the hard-fought win last night came after two deflating losses at Philadelphia and against this same Minnesota team. Buffalo blew a three-goal, third period lead against the Flyers last Tuesday and lost in the shootout 4-3 then followed it up with a 4-0 shutout loss to the Wild two days later.

"It was gut-check time (late in the game,)" said Sabres bench boss Dan Bylsma to the gathered media post-game. "The guys battled the win out hard at the end."

Props to the Sabres d-corps who saw extended time after defenseman Zach Bogosian left the game with a knee injury late in the first period. Kulikov was a horse logging 27:40 minutes of ice-time. Ristolainen logged 25:12 minutes. Josh Gorges came in at 22:42 while Jake McCabe had 22:21. Defenseman Cody Franson had 15:20.

Bylsma use a variation of the term "gutting it out" numerous times during his post-game interview before having his attention turned to forward Johan Larsson, who had the game-winner last night. A reporter pointed out that it was Larsson's seventh game-winning goal in just over a year and Bylsma acknowledged that "Larry," as he called Larsson, "has a knack for scoring big goals."

"We're trying to scratch out some kind of offense in the third period, trying to push forward and get the win," Bylsma continued, "there's nothing really fancy about him coming up big."

Larsson got a little bit lucky on the play as the pass from linemate Brian Gionta went airborne, but the bunt-goal off the shaft of his stick went by Dubnyk giving the Sabres their 2-1 margin of victory. Ironically enough, Larsson was a Minnesota third-round draft pick in 2010 who came over in the Jason Pominville trade three years ago.

Buffalo has made great strides since their sluggish opening game loss at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. Losing two top-six players like Jack Eichel and Evander Kane right off the bat threw the team off and they played inconsistent hockey until the Florida game on Saturday. Since then they've been getting off to great starts in the first period and took the lead in all three games during this streak. They're playing fast and aggressive from the get-go and using their speed to their advantage.

There's speed up and down the lineup at forward and they're using it to play an up-tempo game that's making it difficult on the opposition. That speed stretched all the way down to the fourth line with the additions of Nick Baptiste and Justin Bailey, two 21 yr. olds drafted in 2013 who've been paying their dues in Rochester. The two wingers joined center Derek Grant, who's pretty quick himself, and made plays up and down the ice last night despite not getting on the scoresheet.

The Sabres third line of Reinhart centering Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons also had a great game and did everything except hit the scoresheet. Most of their time was spent in the Minnesota zone and perhaps that's why Dubnyk, when given the opportunity, gave Reinhart the business when he had the opportunity.

This one was about hard work, however, and it's a trait that's come to the fore ever since those back-to-back losses late last week.

Coming up on Thursday, the Sabres take on the high-flying Toronto Maple Leafs at KeyBank. Rookie Auston Matthews and Company are coming off of a victorious tussle with phenom Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers last night. Neither of the future faces of the NHL scored in the 3-2 Leafs overtime win at Toronto. Matthews registered six shots on goal and has only two goals since his record-breaking four-goal outburst in the season opener.

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