Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sabres win a thriller, creep up the standings

Published by 2-18-2017

Allowing a short-handed goal while trying to increase their 3-1 lead late in the third period wasn't exactly what the Buffalo Sabres had in mind while trying to finish off St. Louis Blues. Nor did a Robin Lehner tripping penalty make things easy on the 18,000 plus fans in attendance at KeyBank Center. However, the Sabres eeked out a victory with some clutch penalty killing and walked out with the "W."

As has been par for the course lately, when one player returns from injury, another one goes down. Today we saw the return of defenseman Cody Franson but the Sabres were without the services of forward Sam Reinhart was ruled out due to an illness. With Franson returning the Sabres had eight d-men on the roster so they waived Taylor Fedun. However, if you watched the Blues' shortie in the third, perhaps you were hoping it was Franson who was waived.

With the puck in the St. Louis zone, Scottie Upshall jumped on a puck heading towards Franson then blew by him for the breakaway goal. Lehner, as we've been finding out throughout the year, soulcn't come up with the save on the breakaway and the Blues cut Buffalo's lead to 3-2 with just under five minutes to play in the third period.

Things remained hairy for Buffalo as a couple of icing calls, both somewhat questionable, kept a group of Sabres on the ice for a extended length forcing head coach Dan Bylsma to use their time out. Buffalo controlled the draw and got a desperately needed change in, but the Blues would not go away putting pressure on the Sabres to the point where Lehner eventually took a penalty with 1:12 remaining. It was another questionable call as Lehner was smack-dab in the middle of his crease when he was called for tripping.

The Blues ended up getting their goalie pulled for the extra attacker and despite some pressure, just could not get the equalizer.

The 3-2 win gives the Sabres their third three-game winning streak of the season and their second such streak in the last four weeks. Buffalo has yet to go on a four game winning streak this season, but they'll have an opportunity to do so tomorrow evening when the Chicago Blackhawks visit KeyBank center for a nationally televised 6 pm game on NBCSN.

With the win the Sabres now have 62 points on the season and as they left the ice they're only one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card spot in the east. Granted, they've played more games than all three teams ahead of them and are looking at their mandated bye week beginning Monday, but for a team that's been trying to dig out of a deep hole all season, it doesn't matter. Just looking at that one-point difference should give them at least a semblance of satisfaction.

Buffalo's best players were their best players beginning with Lehner who stopped all but two goals on 39 shots against and Evander Kane who continues to score. With his this afternoon Kane now has 20 goals in his last 35 games. His 20 goals match his output from all of last year (65 games) and they lead the team.

Ryan O'Reilly was all over the place scoring a goal and playing a strong end-to-end, two-way game. And then there was Jack Eichel who was a beast. Speed, skill, vision, stick-work, it's all there for Eichel and it was all on display on Buffalo's first goal as he gained the attention of both Blues d-men then sent a sweet little saucer pass to rookie Nick Baptiste who was barreling towards the crease. The 21 yr. old calmly received the puck and sent a back-hand five-hole to tie the score at 1-1.

Baptistse joined rookies Justin Bailey and Evan Rodrigues in Buffalo and the trio have the look as if they're NHL'ers.

Props to the penalty kill which came through in the clutch at the end while holding the Blues scoreless on three opportunities.

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