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Sabres thoughts: Is Buffalo’s two-game winning streak too little, too late?


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The last time Eric Comrie played a game for the Sabres, he allowed 10 goals. But nobody in Buffalo’s dressing room was putting the game on him. The 10-4 loss to the Stars on March 9 was a team-wide collapse that left Comrie dealing with chance after chance late in the game.

What made it worse was that Comrie got hurt the next day at practice. It was his second injury of the season and forced him out of game action for more than two weeks. He was already accustomed to going a while between starts, but he had to sit on that ugly result until Saturday night when he got his next start, this time against the Islanders.

And how about this for a response? Comrie made 26 saves in a 2-0 win to record his first shutout with the Sabres.

“We owed him after his last outing,” Sabres coach Don Granato said.

Comrie isn’t the only Sabre who has bounced back in the last couple of days. After losing 10 of 12 games, the Sabres won on back-to-back days against two teams in playoff position. They started with a 5-4 win against the Devils at home Friday night and then had a 2-0 win against the Islanders on Saturday.

Buffalo’s playoff hopes are faint, but the Eastern Conference wild-card race remains open because of the lackluster play of the teams involved. The Sabres are four points behind the Penguins for the second wild-card spot as of this writing. They’re also three points behind the Panthers but with a game in hand.

“I just told everybody to stay present,” Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said. “There’s been some emphasis put on the playoffs and on results and I just think it caused us to get a little bit too emotional over the past three weeks to a month and our game suffered a little bit because of that … Everybody is going to be watching the scoreboard but you just have to try and stay in the moment as much as you can.”

This was a rough start to the week for the Sabres. The pressure of the postseason race impacted them individually and as a group. Even when Granato seemed out of answers, he remained calm and consistent in his message. These two wins might be too little, too late for a realistic run to the playoffs, but it’s tough to overstate how badly the Sabres needed to turn the page from that string of losses.

The Sabres won these games in different ways. Against the Devils, the offense came back. Buffalo’s five-goal output was its highest in 20 days and it came against a New Jersey team that has the fifth-best goals-against average in the NHL. The next night, the Sabres needed to play an entirely different game against a stingy Islanders team. They had no trouble playing a patient and defensive game, needing a late Okposo goal to get over the edge. The way they played in front of Comrie, limiting the Islanders to 11 high-danger chances in all situations, made this a much more manageable game for the goaltender.

“It was a very mature game, I thought, from us,” Okposo said.

As challenging as this season has been for Comrie, his attitude hasn’t changed. This week, top goalie prospect Devon Levi joined the Sabres after signing his entry-level contract. Comrie has been as friendly and supportive with Levi as he is with other teammates. It’s why he’s a favorite in the dressing room, but Comrie feels he’s been treated just as well by everyone in the room through a trying season.

“It’s by far the closest team I’ve been on in my life,” Comrie said. “It doesn’t matter who, we talk about everything. Everything’s open, everything’s a discussion, everything’s like, ‘Hey, let’s do this as a group.’ If we’re doing bad, it’s as a group. But if we’re doing good, it’s as a group. ‘Hey, how do we dial in and be great teammates to each other?’ And I think we know to talk to those guys and air out our feelings and talk about things that are going wrong or right, you don’t have that on a lot of teams. And we’re very fortunate with what we have and it’s special, it’s going to be special in the future.”

That dynamic and the way the team played on Friday and Saturday nights is reason to believe the Sabres can turn this end-of-season experience into something positive. Even if this season doesn’t end in playoffs.

Quick hits

1. Tage Thompson is fighting through an injury. He took an elbow to the midsection in the first period against the Devils. He missed a few shifts and returned to finish the game, but didn’t look the same. Before the game against the Islanders, Thompson left the ice during warmups, got additional treatment and managed to suit up for the game. But he hasn’t quite looked like himself since the injury. He did manage eight shot attempts against the Islanders, though, so he’s showing he’s still effective at less than 100 percent. As competitive as he is, Thompson will want to stay in the lineup. The Sabres get a three-day break between games next week, so maybe that can help him heal.

2. Thompson’s injury is another example of the attitude Buffalo’s core players are showing. Rasmus Dahlin has fought through multiple injuries this season. And recently, Alex Tuchreturned early from an injury to help the Sabres try to push for the playoffs. Granato admitted this week that Tuch returned much earlier than the original timetable for his injury. As much as the team has fallen short in the face of the pressure over the last month, there have been some encouraging signs from individual players.

3. Lukas Rousek was an emergency recall for the Sabres on Saturday. He didn’t end up making his NHL debut, because Thompson played, but it was a well-earned call-up for Rousek. He has 48 points in the AHL this season. A torn ACL cost him most of last season, but Rousek had a strong showing for the Amerks in the playoffs and has worked his way into being an NHL call-up. Granato said he likes how feisty Rousek is as a player and he’s been impressed watching him grow in Rochester.

4. Mark Messier had some lofty praise for the Sabres on the ESPN+ broadcast on Saturday night, saying, “I love this team. They have all the ingredients you’d want in a championship team.”

Clearly, the Sabres still have work to do when it comes to building their roster. But they do have some of the key elements of a contender. They have an elite top-line center (Thompson) and an elite defenseman (Dahlin). They have a pair of highly productive wingers (Tuch and Jeff Skinner) playing with their top-line center. They have a 22-year-old center (Dylan Cozens) who is enjoying a breakout season on the second line with two promising rookie wingers (JJ Peterka and Jack Quinn). They also have another potentially elite defenseman in Owen Power. They need to continue to round out the supporting cast, but Messier is right that the core is strong.

5. What to watch this week: The Sabres next play Monday night against the Canadiens. They will host their annual Pride night, and general manager Kevyn Adams told WGR 550 on Friday that the team plans to wear its Pride jerseys during warmups.

This week, the Sabres also have three practices scheduled between their game against the Canadiens and their Friday game against the Rangers. Those practices should be valuable for Devon Levi as the team tries to get him up to speed before getting him his first NHL start.

“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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