By Dave Ricci
So this Jack Eichel kid is pretty good. Like there was ever any doubt.
Eichel, in his first home game of the season, gave the fans something to cheer-and hope-for as he scored twice during the third period to lift the Buffalo Sabres to a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers in front of a boisterous crowd at the KeyBank Center.
Eichel scored on the power play at the 12:45 mark to tie the game at 3-3, then potted the game winner past Henrik Lundqvist less than two minutes later.
“We played really well from the start of the game to the final whistle,” Eichel said. “Everyone stepped up and made some big performances on our back end. (Anders Nilsson) made some big saves when he needed to and we were able to find some timely scoring.”
How timely and how much of a difference has Eichel made since coming back to the lineup after suffering a high ankle sprain during the final practice of training camp? The Sabres are 2-0 with Eichel and have scored nine goals in regulation. Which equals their total output in regulation during the previous seven games.
When Eichel went down with the injury you could feel the energy and a sense of “oh no” permeate throughout the arena as coaches and players worried about just how severely injured Jack was.
The thought of entering the season without their young superstar took a toll on every player. Since his return Eichel has brought a renewed energy within the walls of the locker room.
“We’ve been hurting to get more than two goals a game,” Marcus Foligno said. “I think a guy like that makes everyone around him better.”
Foligno, who picked up his 100th career point on Thursday, said that Eichel’s return brings more than just an emotional boost. Foligno says Eichel’s return gives the team skill at a crucial position. “In this league you need centermen that are dangerous and that can skate up and down the ice and their responsible and that’s what he is,” Foligno said. “When he got injured you could hear a pin drop in the building during practice. It did suck a lot of energy out of us, but we did a good job of creating energy while he was gone and we got in a pretty good position, now he’s back and we’re picking ups wins and points. It’s stuff that we need to keep continuing. Just having him back. The fans get into it more. That was unreal the electricity in the crowd and the Let’s Go Buffalo chants. It just helps so much.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma agreed saying that while Eichel’s impact of the score sheet was obvious the greater plus was seeing how Jack played a complete game and dominated during the second period.
“I actually liked his play in the second quite a bit. He took over the game,” Bylsma said. “Double shifts in the offensive zone in the second period. I really thought our team played at another level in the second period.”
Anders Nilsson turned away 22 shots to pick up his fourth win, while Lundqvist stopped 30 shots in a losing effort.
Johan Larsson tallied his fourth goal of the season when he gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead on the first shot of the game.
“It was great. It was great to be back here,” Eichel said of playing in front of the home crowd. “It’s something I was definitely looking forward to…Get a little come from behind victory in the third period and to be able to contribute makes it a whole lot sweeter.”
The Sabres will practice at the HarborCenter on Friday as they prepare to host Boston on Saturday at 1pm.