Published by hockeybuzz.com, 3-18-2017
As per usual lately, it was a shooting gallery for a Buffalo netminder as backup Anders Nilsson was peppered by the Anaheim Ducks with 40 shots last night. Nilsson was strong in net for the Sabres and was up to the task as he allowed only one goal-against in regulation/overtime then stopped eight of 10 shots in the shootout as he lead the Sabres to the 2-1 victory.
After a listless effort for much of the previous game in which they were shut out by the LA Kings 2-0, Buffalo was much more engaged from the get-go in this one. Instead of getting outshot by a huge, almost unthinkable margin (15-2) in the first period like they did up I-5 against the Kings, the Ducks were held to nine shots but managed to slip one by Nilsson.
The Sabres, however, would tie the game on a lucky bounce as a Jake McCabe shot would be deflected by Anaheim goalie Jonathan Bernier to the side of the net where Ryan O'Reilly was in a battle with a Ducks defender. From Bernier's glove to O'Reilly's skate and a carom from a sharp angle that trickled over the goal line, Buffalo tied the score. There was no scoring in the third period, none in overtime and Sabres fans (whomever was left watching at 1:30 EST in the morning) were left with the prospect of a shootout where the Sabres have been abysmal this season.
Prior to last night the Sabres were near or at the bottom of the league with a 1-6 shootout record, a 17.6 shooting percentage (3/17) and a .250 save percentage as their goalies managed to stop only four of 16 shots against.
Perhaps it was a case of the bling pig finding a nut last night as Nilsson was rock solid in the shootout while O'Reilly, Rasmus Ristolainen and Zemgus Girgensons all scored in the skills competition looking like pure goal-scorers in the process. O'Reilly snapped one top-shelf, glove side, Ristolainen pulled off a "piece of magic," as called by Sabres play-by-play man Dan Dunleavy, using his reach for a long backhand reach-around and Girgensons, whom Bernier tried to fake out, looked cool as a cucumber as he went forehand over an outstretched right pad for the game-winner. Nothin' fancy for "Gus," just a simple forehand-backhand-forehand past an overconfident goalie.
For as much as we've seen a complacent Buffalo Sabres team, and for as much as it looked as if they'd packed it in on their coach and the season, deep down there's a competitive spirit that hates to lose and takes joy in winning. After Girgensons won it the Sabres bench erupted as if they'd just secured a spot in the playoffs. And for only the second time in the last seven games the post-game interviews would focus upon what went right in a win as opposed to what went wrong in a loss.
Girgensons was on the MSG post-game with Brian Duff and Brad May, a rare spot for him as it's not very often a bottom-six defensive forward gets to play the part of hero. He had an ear-to-ear grin with Duffer and May and continued with that smile in the locker room when he said of watching while the shootout went deeper, "every time I was just hoping we'd score and get to go home."
It was a pretty brutal two games prior to the shootout win for Buffalo. Between Jack Eichel's first goal 1:50 into the first period against San Jose' to O'Reilly's goal 15:35 into the second period last night, the Sabres went 153:45 seconds without a goal. It was also a rugged trio of games against three Western Conference heavies where bodies were flying everywhere, yet the Sabres held their own.
Head coach Dan Bylsma did nearly a full shuffle of his lines last night keeping only one intact--Marcus Foligno-Evan Rodrigues-Hudson Fasching. O'Reilly was on Eichel's wing along with Tyler Ennis. Girgensons centered a line featuring two fast power forwards in Evander Kane and Justin Bailey while Sam Reinhart, who is normally on Eichel's wing was centering a line of Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson.
Defensive call-up Taylor Fedun continued his strong play but was dinged up in the first period and didn't come out for the second forcing the Sabres to play with five defensemen. That's yet another defenseman down as Fedun was called up to replace Justin Falk.
The Sabres took a red-eye back to Buffalo last night and have a scheduled practice today. They take on the Detroit Red Wings tomorrow night for their last visit to storied Joe Louis Arena as the Wings will have a new home next year. Buffalo is 2-0-1 vs. Detroit this year.