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How Sabres’ youngest and oldest players helped them to an overtime win


Buddy
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The Buffalo Sabres haven’t leaned on Craig Anderson this season. He’s 41 years old and nearing the end of his career. So they’ve opted to keep him fresh by playing him sometimes as little as once per week.

That’s why it took him until Monday night against the Dallas Stars to make his 17th appearance of the season, which was also the 700th appearance of his career. He showed again just how well the Sabres’ plan for him is working, stopping 29 of 31 shots to lead Buffalo to a 3-2 overtime win on the road in Dallas. They never would have gotten anywhere near overtime if it weren’t for their veteran goalie.

In the first 10 minutes of this game, the Sabres were overwhelmed by the Stars. Tage Thompson took a quick high-sticking penalty, and Jamie Benn scored a power-play goal just 1:48 into the game. A few minutes later, the Sabres had a power play of their own, but the Stars got four short-handed shots on goal. Anderson stopped them all. By the end of the first period, Anderson had made eight saves on high-danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. Of the 29 saves Anderson made, 15 of them were on high-danger scoring chances.

Last week, Anderson was reflecting on what made Ryan Miller so special on the night the franchise retired his jersey number. Anderson is just a year younger than Miller and he’s still playing. A big reason is because of how much he’s enjoying being around this group of players. It’s a team Anderson said he wishes he found when he was a few years younger and had more hockey left in him. Nights like this one are what keep the game fun for him.

“Bailing the team out in the first there, making some big saves for them and allowing us to get our legs,” Anderson said of what made the game fun. “The goalies are the last line of defense. When you can make a big save and elevate the team’s morale, gosh it’s just a great feeling. The adrenaline just kicks in and makes you want to keep coming back.”

Because of the way Anderson played in the early going, the Sabres were able to even the score at the end of the first period when Rasmus Dahlin ripped a one-timer into the back of the net on a feed from Tyson Jost.

“We go in at the end of the first tied 1-1,” coach Don Granato said. “We could have been down 4-1 or 5-1.”

From there, this game followed a pattern we’ve seen from the Sabres on the road this year. The Stars finished the game with a 15-5 advantage in high-danger chances at even strength. They had 58 percent of the expected goals at five-on-five. Thanks to a late Stars goal from Jason Robertson, the game got to overtime. Anderson, the team’s oldest player, got them to overtime. But it was Owen Power, the team’s youngest player, who finished the game.

During the three-on-three overtime, Power was skating with Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch. All three of those players are at least six feet four inches tall. Power’s confidence has been growing throughout the season. He hasn’t yet turned 21, but Power has often played with the poise of a player 10 years older. He’s also creating a ton of offense for the team. The Sabres have 194 high-danger scoring chances this season when Power is on the ice at five-on-five. That’s the most on the team by 32, and Power missed three games due to injury.

So it’s fair to say Power was due. Just 50 seconds into overtime, Power got a point-blank chance and rang a puck off the post. But Tuch collected the loose puck. He located Thompson, who made a quick move to his backhand and slid a pass to Power, who had gotten himself into scoring position. Power then unloaded a one-timer into the back of the net for the game-winner. He raised his arms wide and smiled even wider. The relief of scoring his first goal of the season was evident.

“It’s about time,” Anderson said with a smirk.

Anderson said Power is unusual in the sense that he’s reliably gobbling up ice time for the Sabres on a nightly basis. He’s handling a workload most 20-year-olds can’t.

“He could have six or seven or eight goals by now and none of us would have been surprised,” Granato said. “Obviously he hit the goal post a couple of seconds prior to actually scoring. He’s put himself in scoring areas. He’s generated high-quality scoring chances. He just hasn’t hit the back of the net. Lots of times when you break that ice more follow pretty soon. We hope that’s the case.”

The Sabres are now just three points behind the Penguins for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. They’ll need games like this one against the Stars to stay alive in the race. They got a lift from their goaltending and managed to hang in a game against a tough opponent on the road. Then they got their youngest player to deliver in a big moment. Those are ingredients for a strong second half. Strong goaltending will be a prerequisite. So will the performance of the youngsters, because they’re all over the lineup.

Granato has been steadfast in his belief in those young players, individually and as a group. That has allowed some of them to emerge ahead of schedule. Now the team is fighting to play meaningful hockey late in the season. They got one step closer on Monday.

“Their ability to adjust and adapt within a game is evidence of their skill level and their talent and their potential,” Granato said.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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