by Tony Fiorello
After a slow-paced first period, the Buffalo Sabres came alive in the second stanza of play and held on to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1.
It was a game in which the Sabres got contributions up and down the lineup. From top to bottom, virtually everyone contributed.
“That’s the way we need to play the game,” coach Dan Byslma said. “Just stick to it, stay with our gameplan and it paid off for us in the second and third period.”
After a largely uneventful first period – aside from a fight between Buffalo’s Nic Deslauriers and Philly’s Brandon Manning – it almost seemed as if each team was treating the outing as just another day at the office.
Then the Sabres woke up.
Sam Reinhart opened up the scoring with a powerplay goal midway through the second period and was assisted by Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan O’Reilly. The goal came as a result of being patient with the puck, and waiting for the right opportunity to shoot the puck.
After what seemed like an eternity – a lot of passing and hesitating on shooting opportunities due to lanes being blocked by Flyer defenders – O’Reilly finally fed Ristolainen with a pass, who proceeded to slap another pass towards Reinhart. The move by Ristolainen caught Flyers goaltender Steve Mason off guard, leaving a gaping hole for Reinhart to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead.
A short while later, rookie left winger William Carrier buried home a rebound to give the Sabres a two-goal advantage. O’Reilly collected another assist and defenseman Taylor Fedun also factored into the score.
Then, shortly before the second period ended, Evander Kane gave Buffalo a 3-0 lead with a wrist shot that beat Mason with 8.9 seconds left on the clock. Reinhart and Zach Bogosian assisted.
Bylsma knew that his team needed to clamp down on the Flyers in the third period – something that didn’t happen the last time the two teams met back in October. Buffalo had carried a three-goal lead into the third period in that contest as well and eventually lost in a shootout.
“I think you can bring it up (during intermission) without really bringing it up,” Bylsma said. “We talked about it before the game about what happened the last time against the Flyers. We talked about not giving them any opportunities.
“(Philadelphia’s) a very good rush team. They’ve got a lot of skill and they come at you with a lot of speed, so we wanted to be on top of the puck, play good defense and stay out of the box in the third period. Minus the last penalty we took near the end of the game, we did a good job there.”
After Brayden Schenn connected on a Flyers powerplay with 2:07 remaining in the third period, Reinhart and Jake McCabe provided helpers on Marcus Foligno’s empty-net goal to seal the win for Buffalo. Reinhart has been hot in his last 10 games, providing three goals and nine assists during that stretch.
“It’s easy to get frustrated when things aren’t going your way, but when chances are there, you know things are going to turn in your favor eventually,” Reinhart said. “I think, even tonight, I could have had some more chances to score, but they’ve been coming, and I’ve been taking advantage of them.”
Anders Nilsson, starting in place of Robin Lehner (illness) recorded 39 saves to notch the victory for his club.
“I thought Anders played really strong for us,” Bylsma said. “When (Philadelphia) got a lot of flurries on net and on their powerplays, he was able to track the puck and stop it pretty quickly.”
After Jack Eichel’s blowup in the Sabres’ dressing room following their loss to Boston on New Year’s Eve, Buffalo has caught fire. The team has earned points in each of their last four games, and sits just five points behind Ottawa for third place in the Atlantic Division and seven points behind the Flyers in the wild-card chase with three games at hand.
One of the keys to the turnaround, according to O’Reilly, has been the team’s effort.
“That was a much more consistent effort,” O’Reilly said. “We were just competing right away, and that’s what we’ve got to do a little bit more often. It was nice.
“We weren’t as focused on kind of the X’s and O’s and kind of what they were going to do. We just kind of said, ‘You know what? Let’s go out and play hockey.’ That’s kind of what we did right away.”