Comebacks are starting to become the norm for the Buffalo Sabres this season.
It’s been that way over the last month or so. From wins against Winnipeg and Detroit to victories over Montreal and Nashville, it seems as if this year’s Sabres squad has found a late-period magic that hasn’t been seen around these parts of town in ten years.
It happened again on Tuesday night, as the Sabres rallied from a 4-1 second period deficit to topple the defending Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks 5-4 in overtime. The ‘W’ puts the Sabres within six points of a wild-card playoff spot with two months left in the regular season.
“We looked like we didn’t have a lot of jump or a lot of energy for a good part of that game, and we really poured it on there for the last 10 minutes,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “We really out-played them and out-chanced them. I thought we were going to win in regulation the way we played in the third period.”
Kyle Okposo agreed.
“That’s probably the worst we’ve played and still gotten a win,” Okposo said. “We just have to bottle this winning feeling. We just have to win games.”
After Matt Moulson gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead midway through the first period, San Jose took over. Goals by Joel Ward, Logan Couture, Melker Karlsson and over the next period-and-a-half gave the Sharks a 3-1 lead and highlighted two factors that weren’t going the Sabres’ way – offensive pressure (Buffalo was being outshot 31-18) and defensive play (Karlsson’s goal was the result of a blown coverage near the slot). Displeased fans booed the Sabres off the ice.
When Joe Pavelski increased the lead to 4-1 in the third period, the Sabres easily could have packed it in and called it a night. Instead, the team turned up their intensity.
Within a span of three minutes and 28 seconds, powerplay goals by Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane and a wrist shot from Okposo off the halfwall tied the score and put the Sharks in full-on retreat mode. The Sabres also outshot San Jose 17-9 in the third stanza of play, and the KeyBank Center, once feeling like a morgue, suddenly had the energy of a rock concert.
“We got the building going, got some energy in here after (the fans) were booing us off the ice and everyone loves us again,” Eichel said. “It’s interesting how that works.”
In overtime, Eichel picked up the puck in his own end and raced up the halfwall, creating a two-on-one with Kane. Eichel then delivered Kane a pass between Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic that Kane buried behind goaltender Martin Jones for the game-winner.
“When I saw Jack around the net, I knew just to get to the middle of the ice,” Kane said. “He was going to beat his man, I was going to beat mine, he was able to feather one through and I was able to put it away.”
“Kaner has a lot of speed and he got to that far post and I just tried to put it on his stick,” Eichel said. “It’s a great finish by him to go up under the bar in tight like that.”
A win like this – the Sabres’ 17th all-time victory over the Sharks in Buffalo – could prove to be a boon for the home stretch, especially considering the opponent, according to Bylsma.
“This is a game we have to learn how to play in and learn how to win in,” Bylsma said. “You felt like this is a game where we’re playing the big boys, playing a good team, a team that’s heavy on sticks… We didn’t come back against a poor team. We came back against one of the better teams in the league. It should be a big boost for our guys.”