Jump to content

Sabres’ comeback win shows they won’t go away quietly: ‘We’re still in this thing’


Recommended Posts

With 15:47 to play in the second period on Monday night in Toronto, the Sabres were on the ropes.

Calle Järnkrok had just beat Craig Anderson with a wrist shot to give the Maple Leafs a 2-0 lead. It came just 3:02 after Auston Matthews opened the scoring. At that point, Toronto was outshooting Buffalo 15-4. The Sabres, who were carrying a four-game losing streak into the game, looked like a team that might see its season slip away against a division rival.

Instead, just when it looked like they were heading toward another loss that would further diminish their playoff chances, the Sabres took control.

“The chatter on the bench, there was no emotion, no extra wasted energy anywhere,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “They were dialed in. This group knows they can score.”

Between Järnkrok’s goal at the 15:47 mark of the second period and the second intermission, Buffalo outshot Toronto 16-0. More than 17 minutes of game action passed before the Leafs got another shot on net.

With just over five minutes left in the second period, Jack Quinn batted a puck out of the air after JJ Peterka flipped it out front. It ended up in the back of the net and sparked a Sabres team that has already asserted itself on the road.

“To get one there, it’s not even close to out of reach,” Dylan Cozens said. “That was big for us for sure.”

When the third period started, Alex Tuch, who was playing his first game since missing more than two weeks with a lower-body injury, took over the game. Tuch’s value to the Sabres has been apparent since he arrived in Buffalo. It became even more obvious when he missed eight games and the team went 2-5-1 in his absence. Tuch reminded everyone of his worth, scoring a pair of third-period goals including the game-winner to help the Sabres beat the Leafs 4-3.

Tuch led the team with 11 shot attempts and five high-danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. Granato thought it took Tuch a bit to find his rhythm, but once he did, his line with Tage Thompson and Skinner helped the Sabres push the pace.

“I’ll be honest, the first five, 10 minutes were a little tiring getting legs back under me,” Tuch said with a smile. “It’s never easy. It’s good to be into battle with these guys. It’s a lot of fun. I love playing on this team, I love these guys in here, and to go in and to work with them and battle with them means the world to me. I missed it, that’s for sure.”

This game was emblematic of Buffalo’s season. Just when it appears they’re on uneven ground, the Sabres keep finding a way to push back. They had an eight-game losing streak in November but dug themselves out of that hole. They had a four-game losing streak to start February and then won five of six games to climb back into the race.

Heading into the game against Toronto, they had collected just three points in their previous eight games and were down two goals on the road. Again, they refused to go away quietly.

“We know we’re still in this thing,” Cozens said. “We know we can get hot at any time and now’s the time to do that. We’re looking for a big push here.”

It helps that since the Sabres allowed 10 goals to the Stars on March 9, they’ve put a further emphasis on defending. They are being more judicious about exiting their own zone without the puck and protecting the middle of the ice. The results have been striking. The Sabres have allowed five goals in their last two games. According to Natural Stat Trick, they allowed only seven high-danger chances at even strength against the Leafs after allowing five against the Rangers. That’s the fewest amount of high-danger chances the Sabres have allowed in a two-game stretch since they had back-to-back wins against the Blues and Jets in late January,

To play that way against the Leafs, who are eighth in the NHL in high-danger chances per 60 minutes, while playing without top-pair defenseman Mattias Samuelsson was a massive accomplishment. That made life easier for Anderson, who still bailed the Sabres out with multiple saves in big moments.

Anderson foiled a backhand chance in close by Matthews seven minutes into the game. He then helped keep the Sabres in the game late by shutting down William Nylander on a clean break just over a minute into the third. With 5:37 left in the third and the Sabres protecting a two-goal lead, Anderson made a strong play on a two-on-one chance from John Tavares and Michael Bunting.

“He’s unbelievable,” Cozens said. “The saves he makes and how consistent he is, he’s big for us every time he’s in there. It’s pretty incredible that he can still play like that. Hopefully, he has a few more years left in him.”

What Granato liked about his team on Monday, though, was that they didn’t need Anderson to be the one who calmed them down. So often that’s been the case, but the rest of the team is starting to embody the nature of its veteran goaltender.

“That was the beauty of tonight,” Granato said. “Guys were dialed in and calm the whole way through. We’ve talked a lot about the process and there’s a process within a game. It’s 60 minutes so you can’t ride ups and downs and you have to stay on objectives that you laid out, believing that they’re going to come through. Tonight, I think the entire group was calm. Craig Anderson-like.”

The Sabres still won’t have an easy path to the postseason. They’re seven points behind the Penguins with no games in hand and five points behind the Islanders with two games in hand. They also have to jump the Panthers while holding off the Capitals and Senators. According to MoneyPuck, Buffalo’s playoff chances are at four percent.

But clearly, the Sabres aren’t concerning themselves much with that number.

“It’s cliche, but one win at a time,” Tuch said. “One game at a time. Hockey players are known for their cliches but that’s the mentality. It really helps. It does. If you’re able to just not look at the standings, not look at what other teams are doing and just focus on yourself, focus on your next opponent, it allows you to play your best games.”

Quick hits

1. Tuch’s second goal of the game was his 30th of the season. It’s his first time hitting 30 goals in a season, and he got the puck to commemorate the occasion. The goal was set up by a smooth feed from Jeff Skinner, who signed the puck and wrote, “What a pass!”

“I think everyone knows he’s got more in him so I’m just excited to see where he can go next,” Thompson said.

2. When Cozens scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, “Machinehead,” by Bush, played at Scotiabank Arena. That’s the song that leads the Sabres onto the ice when they wear the black and red “Goathead” jerseys. After Leafs fans took over KeyBank Center a few weeks ago, it must have been nice for the Sabres to have a taste of home in Toronto.

3. Victor Olofsson was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Last week, Granato mentioned that he wanted to see Olofsson get to inside ice more often. He has just one goal in his last 17 games and during that stretch, he was on the ice for four goals for and 14 against at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick. Competition for spots in the lineup has gotten tougher with the addition of Jordan Greenway and the return of Tuch, so Olofsson is going to have to earn his spot.

“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.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...