Sunday, December 24, 2017

Some hockey happiness in Western New York last night

Published by, 12-23-2017

Both the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans got wins last night bringing Western New York some holiday cheer. The Sabres beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 in their last home game until January 9, 2018 and the Amerks beat the Laval Rocket (MTL) 3-2 in overtime to continue a roll they've been on for a month. Add in that Sabres prospect Casey Mittelstadt scored a goal and added an assist in Team USA's final tune up before the World Junior Championships that begin in Buffalo on Decemeber 26, and it was a pretty good night for hockey fans in Sabreland.

The Sabres have been struggling as of late in a number of ways, mostly centered around scoring goals. Although not as bad as a stretch earlier in the season, Buffalo was having trouble scoring lately, especially with Robin Lehner in net. In his six starts prior to last night he allowed an average of just over two goals/game on a .940 save percentage yet he was only 2-2-2 through that stretch as the team only averaged two goals per game.

Last night they were having trouble with Flyers goalie Brian Elliott until Ryan O'Reilly squeezed a shot in from below the goal line. It was just  a little lucky, but it was the type of goal they needed at the time. Just over seven minutes later Evander Kane put the Sabres up 2-0 as he tipped in a Josh Gorges shot from the point. Kyle Okposo got the secondary assist on that one but the whole sequence was set up by O'Reilly through his work from behind the net.

From there it was a matter of hanging on for dear life. The Flyers went on the powerplay late in the third as Buffalo defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen was called for delay of game with 3:58 left in the third period. Philadelphia pulled Elliot for the extra attacker and scored with just 12 seconds left on the penalty to make it 2-1. Jack Eichel scored an empty-netter to make it 3-1 but the Flyers closed the gap again with :32 seconds left. But Eichel scored his second empty net goal with :0.6 seconds left on the clock.

It was the first time in Sabres history that one player scored two empty net goals in a game.

That was a good win for the Sabres who were in desperate need of one. Even though they'd remained rather loose through their recent three-game skid (0-2-1,) winning is a good thing, especially the way they did it. Despite being frustrated throughout the game they kept to the game-plan, like coach Phil Housley had been imploring them to do, and eventually broke through.

"I give credit to our guys because we've been in that position before where nothing is going in and, 'Here we go again,'" Housley said to the gathered media afterward. "But they stuck with it. We kept telling them to just keep throwing pucks to the net, it's going to happen.

"Finally, we broke through. We didn't get away from what we were talking about."

Housley juggled his lines for last night's game and inserted Gorges into the lineup in place of rookie Victor Antipin. And it worked.

Buffalo is in Carolina tonight to take on the Hurricanes before the Christmas break in the third and final meeting between the two teams this season. Carolina has beaten the Sabres twice, 3-1 and 5-4 in overtime.

Meanwhile, the Amerks continued their roll with a 3-2 overtime win in Laval, Quebec against the Rockets. Kyle Criscuolo, who scored two goals, tied the score at 2-2 with 1:40 left in the third period while Nick Baptiste scored the game-winner in overtime.

Rochester is has now gained points in 13 of their last 14 games (9-1-4) and are two points behind the Toronto Marlies (TOR) in the AHL's Eastern Conference.

Here are the highlights courtesy the Laval Rocket:

And here's the USA/Sweden highlights courtesy USA Hockey:

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